Caprese chopped salad

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Posted: Friday, July 6, 2018 9:14 am

My kiddo, Jack, has been asking to help me cook a lot lately.

I’m not sure if he’s genuinely interested or if I’m a last resort as a cure for summer boredom, but I definitely know part of the allure is his hope that I’ll eventually relent and let him use my good knives.

“I’m 8,” he said recently while holding up his sturdy, plastic, somewhat sharp chef’s knife. “I think we’re beyond this.”

But I don’t think I’m beyond it quite yet, especially when Jack tries to imitate the professional chefs on TV who can mince an onion in 6 seconds without even glancing at the cutting board. (We recently had a talk about how the main goal of cooking is to keep all your fingers intact. If you happen to whip up something tasty in the process, that’s just gravy.)

But Jack seems to enjoy the process of cooking a meal, whether it’s chopping, measuring or stirring, and Italian food tops his list of favorite foods to prepare.

That’s probably due in part to his braces, because he still finds pasta among the easiest foods to eat.

But he’s also rather fascinated with my herb garden, which he waters and prunes for me on a regular basis (if taking the hedge shears to the top half of my basil plant counts as pruning).

He recently asked if I could teach him to make baked tortellini with tomato-basil cream sauce, which is a surprisingly easy family favorite that one day will serve him well in his future romantic endeavors. His favorite part of the process – aside from the three platefuls of pasta he ate – was mincing the fresh basil. I even let him use a real knife, as long as I held on to the basil for him. (Risky? Yes. But it turned out OK.)

Next up was homemade spaghetti sauce, where Jack minced the garlic and herbs and sliced the mushrooms. And even though the minced garlic ended up roughly the same size as the sliced mushrooms, the sauce turned out terrific and vampires should steer clear of me for weeks. Best of all, Jack got to see everyone enjoy the fruits of his labors. (“Boy, you’re really going to town on that spaghetti,” he commented proudly as I ate my supper.)

After we’d eaten more than our fair share of pasta the past week, Jack recommended a salad. Nothing says summer to me more than a Caprese salad of sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, but when you’re 8 (or 40), slicing foods isn’t nearly as much fun as chopping them. So we transformed our Caprese salad into a chopped salad, adding a health helping of baby spinach and a crumble of bacon for some extra texture and flavor.

And yes, I went to town on this, too.

For the recipe, see the Banner's online or print edition.

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