I just want you all to know that I really killed it at camping last weekend. I didn’t get attacked by a wild horse, I went in the ocean sans flotation device, and I brought plenty of jello shots, which made sleeping on the ground a lot easier for everyone. Long story short, my outdoorsiness knows no bounds.
Adding to the awesomeness of the weekend, the weather in Assateague State Park was perfect, the no-alcohol rule turned out to be more of a friendly suggestion, and our camping partners were dream companions. They provided endless entertainment, did not judge my lack of heavy lifting/tent-pitching skills, and were very respectful of my role as camp chef. In fact, the weekend was so successful, that there was talk of making an annual Memorial Day pilgrimage to Assateague. (I am on board with this mostly because I want to go to Seacrets, a Jamaican-themed “adult fun park” in nearby Ocean City. Fingers crossed for 2015.)
While I had a lovely time on my outdoor adventure, there’s nothing better than coming home after a weekend of camping. It always makes me feel extra appreciative of life’s small luxuries, like beds, dread-free hair, and general distance from large animals (bears, horses, etc.). Oh, and my kitchen. I missed my oven, burners, coffee maker, and dishwasher a disturbing amount out in ze wilderness. (Appliance separation anxiety is a thing, people.)
For the record, there were some very fancy campfire feasts, including bomb steak tacos and a wildly successful grilled pizza experiment, but “rustic” cooking gets old surprisingly fast. There’s something to be said for food that’s not prepared over an open flame and/or hasn’t been stored in a cooler for a few days, and I was all kinds of pumped yesterday to put something in my oven. After much deliberation, I settled on a Caprese Quinoa Bake, which seemed like the perfect summery creation to celebrate my return to civilization.
Quinoa bakes are dank. Ever since the roasted broccoli, chicken and cheddar miracle that I whipped up earlier this winter, some version of a quinoa bake has made an appearance in my kitchen at least once a week. They’re incredibly simple and comforting, and can be adapted six ways from Sunday, so they’re an excellent vehicle for any leftover vegetables/meats/cheeses you have on hand. They also keep well in the fridge, which makes for exciting breakfast options (put an egg on it!) and the sassiest of desk lunches.
Plus, you know how I feel about the absurdly wonderful health benefits of quinoa. To avoid sounding like a crazy quinoa pusher, I’ll spare you another fetishist rant on the super food today, but you really should eat as much of it as possible. Glory, glory, hallelujah.
So, considering how much I love quinoa bakes and the infinite varieties I’ve tried, you should take what I’m about to say very seriously: This caprese situation is the best quinoa bake of all time. OF ALL TIME IN THE HISTORY OF QUINOA BAKES, PERIOD.
Lest you think I’m spouting some sort of self-important Kanye-esque hyperbole, let’s take a minute to break this beautiful bad boy down…
Fluffy quinoa is tossed with roasted petite Roma tomatoes, sautéed shallots and garlic, chopped basil, and grated mozzarella cheese. The heavenly mixture is then topped with slices of juicy beefsteak tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and baked to beautiful, golden brown, bubbling perfection. Fresh basil and a drizzle of sweet and tangy balsamic reduction are the finishing touches on this masterpiece, which is an epic explosion of fresh, bright, subtly sweet flavors in your mouth. And all that melted cheese? Top of the world, baby. (It’s very tempting to talk about this recipe exclusively in absurd Kanye lyrics/quotes. “All I want is dopeness!”)
This Caprese Quinoa Bake is a glorious and satisfying vegetarian meal, but you can always bulk it up with some meat if you’re on my roommate’s “die-hard carnivore” bandwagon. (I’m thinking bacon, prosciutto, or some spicy Italian sausage.) You should also consider serving this casserole as a show-stopping side dish at all your fancy summer soirées. I fed it to my roommate with some chicken paillard (HUGE success), but it would be equally delightful with a good steak or some garlicky grilled shrimp. You do you.
Caprese Quinoa Bake: (Serves 4-6)
1¼ cups uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 cups petite Roma or cherry tomatoes, halved (I used a blend of red and yellow tomatoes, but all red is fine.)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
Fresh ground pepper
2 small shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup packed basil leaves, thinly sliced
4 ounces fresh part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated (about 1 cup of grated cheese)
8 ounces fresh part-skim mozzarella cheese, sliced into 1/4–inch rounds
2 beefsteak tomatoes, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Preparing your Caprese Quinoa Bake:
-Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.
-In a small pot, bring the quinoa and 1¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons water to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes until all of the water has been absorbed. Let the quinoa rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
-Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. When hot, add the minced shallots and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the shallots have become translucent and the garlic is fragrant.
-Make a second circle of overlapping tomatoes and mozzarella, covering the surface of the quinoa. (If you’re using a square or rectangular dish, just make two lines of overlapping tomatoes and mozzarella and call it a day.)
-While your quinoa bake is in the oven, place the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for 3-5 minutes until the vinegar becomes syrupy. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- 1¼ cups uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
- 2 cups petite Roma or cherry tomatoes, halved (I used a blend of red and yellow tomatoes, but all red is fine.)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- Kosher salt
- Fresh ground pepper
- 2 small shallots, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup packed basil leaves, thinly sliced
- 4 ounces fresh part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated (about 1 cup of grated cheese)
- 8 ounces fresh part-skim mozzarella cheese, sliced into 1/4–inch rounds
- 2 beefsteak tomatoes, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.
- In a small pot, bring the quinoa and 1¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons water to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes until all of the water has been absorbed. Let the quinoa rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
- While the quinoa is cooking, place the halved tomatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and fresh ground pepper. Transfer to the oven and roast for 10 minutes until they’re tender and the skins have started to burst.
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. When hot, add the minced shallots and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the shallots have become translucent and the garlic is fragrant.
- In a large bowl combine the quinoa, roasted tomatoes, cooked shallots and garlic, and basil. Stir in the grated mozzarella and season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
- Transfer the quinoa mixture to a large skillet and smooth the top. (Yes, you can use a round, square or rectangular baking dish if that’s what you have. Duh.)
- Starting in the center, overlap slices of tomatoes and mozzarella in a small circle. Make a second circle of overlapping tomatoes and mozzarella, covering the surface of the quinoa. (If you’re using a square or rectangular dish, just make two lines of overlapping tomatoes and mozzarella and call it a day.)
- Cover the skillet loosely with foil and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and lightly browned.
- While your quinoa bake is in the oven, place the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for 3-5 minutes until the vinegar becomes syrupy. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Sprinkle your quinoa bake with freshly sliced basil and drizzle with the balsamic reduction. Serve immediately.
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