Some people live vicariously through others, I eat vicariously through others. Allow me to explain. I am often the very willing recipient of recipe ideas and flavor combinations from just about everywhere, via the traveling adventures of my friends, sometimes even friends of friends when they find out what I do for a living. Everyone, it seems, wants to give me their latest gustatory update, be it from last weekend’s block party, or some far off vacation destination. And I eagerly want to listen and sometimes even take notes. It's not uncommon for people to show me pictures of food, taken on their cell phones with as much pride as if they were showing me their first born. I’ve even gotten calls from friends at parties describing the menu to me as they walk the buffet line. Yes, really.
Through these tidbits I've virtually tasted the food at Hollywood parties, celebrity events, birthdays, weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, family reunions and countries I've never visited by taking what people tell me about their food experiences and using it as a blueprint in the kitchen for inspired creations of my own. Sometimes they actually bring me full-fledged recipes, but more often than not they’re breathless descriptions and flavor ideas that I can begin experimenting and tinkering with in the kitchen.
The following recipe idea came from just such an encounter after a friend returned from a trip to Argentina. He was telling me about the restaurants and the late night dining, and of course the beautiful steaks for which their country is known. But it was the amuse-bouche that was served at one particular restaurant that really piqued my interest. It was, for lack of a better description, a watermelon canapé. Knowing that I’m always in search of what I refer to as “the perfect bite” he described to me the simplest, most brilliant combination of sweet, juicy watermelon, soft, slightly salty mozzarella, and a thin sliver of perfectly ripe tomato stacked architecturally, the whole thing drizzled with just a touch of fresh basil oil and the slightest splash of aged balsamic vinegar. It made perfect culinary sense. All of the freshness of summer in one perfect bite.
I immediately set about experimenting with this idea and I must tell you, it is everything that I’d hoped it would be. Not to mention slightly unexpected, which is always a bonus in my book. I love making this for summertime entertaining because you can easily assemble a whole tray of them as part of a buffet, or serve one per person at the start of an elegant meal. It's pure art on a plate. Every time I serve these there's at least one person who eyes it suspiciously at first, but immediately upon tasting it becomes smitten. And I smile, knowing they’ve just experienced “the perfect bite.”
Serves 4 as a starter
FOR THE CANAPÉS
¼ of a small seedless watermelon
1 ball of fresh mozzarella (packed in water)
2 Roma tomatoes
Aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
FOR THE BASIL OIL
1 bunch fresh basil
3/4 to 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt & freshly cracked pepper, to taste
Bring a large pot of water to the boil and season generously with salt. Blanch the basil for 30 seconds, until bright and vibrant green. Plunge immediately into an ice bath to stop the cooking. Ring the water gently from the basil and place in a blender. With the blender running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil, completely pulverizing the basil to make a thin oil; season with salt and pepper.
To assemble the canapés, slice the watermelon into ¼-inch slices and then into 1-inch squares and place a few on a plate. Slice the mozzarella into ¼-inch slices and cut out with a small round cookie cutter slightly smaller than the watermelon squares. Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise and squeeze gently upside down to release the seeds. Slice lengthwise into thin slivers. Place a round of mozzarella on each piece of watermelon, top with a sliver of tomato and drizzle with basil oil and balsamic vinegar.