Lauren: (Heirloom) Tomato Stacks with Bocconcini and Kale Pesto

I arrived home from a trip to St. Louis last night and immediately began scouring cookbooks for something delicious to do with this week’s item—tomatoes (yay!). Some time around midnight, while snug in my bed, I came across this recipe for tomatoes with mozzarella and a kale pesto and could hardly wait for lunch today. The dish involved so many of my favorite things: pesto, kale, garlic, Parmesan cheese, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, that I naively assumed there was no way it could go wrong. While it didn’t go wrong per se, in the end it just wasn’t really my kind of thing.

Yes, I did tweak the recipe, which came from The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook, but only ever so slightly. First, I used some tomatoes sold on the vine instead of heirlooms because I couldn’t find them. Next, I added roughly an 1/8 of teaspoon more salt and an additional 1/8 cup of parmesan to the pesto. Yet, when I finished this whole process and tried it, I found the taste of walnuts overwhelming (but, I’m never really one for nuts in my pesto), while my mother was upset that she couldn’t taste the nuts at all and was instead overwhelmed by garlic. Neither of us loved it, but it was a fine lunch. Fine being the operative word.

Keep in mind that my dissatisfaction might be influenced by my recent influx of allergies. After the first few bites of this dish, I could think of nothing but my apparently walnut-aggravated allergies and now-stuffy nose.

Some ways to improve this salad of sorts may be to replace the walnuts with pine nuts to make it more of a classic pesto, to use smaller garlic cloves, or to forget this recipe all together and make my favorite lunchtime standby: the tomato and fresh mozzarella salad.

For my salad there are no measurements, and for that matter, unlike a typical caprese, no basil. Just cut up a few really red tomatoes and some balls of mozzarella into bite-sized pieces, then douse the whole thing with unmeasured amounts of apple cider vinegar and olive oil, topped with a sprinkle of salt. Yum.

In case you’d like to try the namesake recipe of this post and tweak it your own way, behold:

Sprouted Kitchen‘s heirloom tomato stacks with bocconcini and kale pesto (with Lauren’s notes added in)

Serves 4-6


1 small bunch lacinato (Tuscan) kale, stemmed and chopped (about 4 cups)

2 cloves garlic

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (plus another handful if you like cheese)

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup lightly toasted walnuts

2 tablespoons water

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 to 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 pounds assorted heirloom tomatoes (about 4 large tomatoes)—or, if you’re me, a bunch of smaller tomatoes a little larger than a golf ball

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Flaked sea salt, such as Maldon (or you know, if you aren’t in the business of eating artisanal salt (i.e. me), whatever you have on hand will be just fine)

1 cup small mozzarella balls (baby bocconcini or pearline), drained

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish


Wash, de-stem, and roughly chop your kale. Boil a pot of salted water, then quickly blanch the kale leaves until they turn bright green, which is about 30 seconds to a minute, then drain the leaves and run cold water over them to stop the cooking process. After that, squeeze all the water out. I first pressed the leaves into the bottom of the colander, then removed the solid block of kale leaves and squeezed them between paper towels until they were pretty dry. You should end up with about 1 and 1/2 cups of kale.

In a food processor combine the garlic, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, and walnuts and pulse them. Then add the kale, water, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and pulse again to combine. Then turn the processor on and drizzle in the olive oil until you have the desired consistency. Sprouted Kitchen says to avoid making the pesto too thick since you’ll have to sort of marinade the mozzarella in it, but I like a thicker sauce so I added just slightly less than 1/4 cup of olive oil to mine. Then combine them all by pulsing.

Next, slice the tomatoes and place the slices in a bowl. Drizzle the tablespoon of olive oil on top and sprinkle with a few pinches of salt flakes. I massaged the tomatoes to ensure full coverage in olive oil.

In a separate bowl, toss the balls of mozzarella with 1/2 cup of pesto.

To assemble the whole thing, put a dollop of pesto in the middle of a dish, then layer about three tomato slices (I took some liberties here as you can see in the photo) on top of the pesto, interspersed by a few pieces of mozzarella and repeat with remaining ingredients. Sprinkle each plate with a bit of Parmesan and serve at room temperature.

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