When tomatoes are in peak season, I frequently make them the center of my plate. From gazpacho to panzanella, beautifully ripe heirloom tomatoes pump up nightshade-forward dishes with their natural sweetness and fresh acidity. During the summer months, caprese salads are my go-to as they are such a delight to eat when temperatures rise.

There’s just one caveat: these salads don’t always satisfy my hunger. So, I add eggplant for extra sustenance. An excellent extra virgin olive oil matters a lot here, because the eggplant absorbs all of that flavor. When choosing an olive oil, I’d lean on the side of fruity and robust. With its chewy and spongy texture, the eggplant adds an elevating quality to this uber popular summer salad.

Large leaves of basil provide notes of anise and licorice. Included are some feta crumbles and a pomegranate molasses vinaigrette to perk up the plate with some Middle Eastern flair. As you build your caprese, alternate the vegetables with the basil so that you end up with a pretty mosaic on your plate. To find the best tasting tomatoes, and to gain some street cred while you’re at it, plan a trip to your nearby farmer’s market. Supporting your local vegetable growers is a great way to contribute to a healthy and sustainable community.

Eggplant Caprese with Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette
Yields 4

Ingredients for the eggplant caprese:
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing, to taste
1 large eggplant, half-inch rounds
2 large heirloom tomatoes, one yellow and one red, half-inch rounds
1 lb mozzarella, cubed
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp red chili flakes
½ tsp salt
⅓ cup plain feta crumbles
½ cup large basil leaves
Maldon sea salt & freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Ingredients for the pomegranate molasses vinaigrette:
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt & pepper, to taste

Instructions for the eggplant caprese:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Arrange eggplant slices over a rack with a sheet tray underneath. Score each slice of eggplant. Sprinkle salt over the eggplant to allow water to expel from the eggplant, approximately 15 – 20 minutes. With a paper towel, dab the excess moisture off of the eggplant slices. Brush the eggplant generously with extra virgin olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Arrange the eggplant slices onto a parchment lined sheet tray. Roast in the oven until golden brown, approximately 30 – 40 minutes. (Note: you can overlap the eggplant rounds slightly to fit into the sheet tray.)
In a mixing bowl, add mozzarella cubes, extra virgin olive oil, dried oregano, red chili flakes, and salt. Mix thoroughly. Reserve a few mozzarella cubes for garnishing the plate later.
Remove eggplant from the oven. Top each slice of eggplant with 3 – 4 cubes of mozzarella. Roast in the oven until the mozzarella is melted, approximately 5 – 8 minutes. Top each slice with a few plain feta crumbles and return to the oven for 3 minutes. Remove from the oven. Set aside.

Instructions for the pomegranate molasses vinaigrette:
Combine all ingredients into a mixing bowl. Whisk vigorously.

Assembly:
In a serving platter, arrange slices of heirloom tomatoes and eggplant slices in an overlapping fashion, alternating the color pattern. Tuck in large basil leaves between the tomatoes and eggplant. Sprinkle Maldon sea salt over each tomato slice. Dot the plate with reserved mozzarella cubes. Drizzle the entire plate with pomegranate molasses vinaigrette. Enjoy!

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