Dinner Rush! Caprese Sliders

If you’ve tuned into Food Network at some point in the nearly 20 years it has been on the air, you’ve probably heard (more than) one of the chefs talk at length about the importance of using high-quality ingredients in your cooking. “Only select the freshest” they decree from their perfectly lit and styled flat screen stages. Curious thing is, they're right.

I suggest a classic caprese salad for consideration -- basil, mozzarella, tomatoes and olive oil. Four ingredients -- maybe throw on a dash of salt -- and it’s done. There’s not a lot of room for rock star ingredients to make up for the stragglers there, so take just a couple of minutes as you’re working your way through the grocery store to pick the best ingredients you possibly can. Reach for the ripe red tomatoes. Spend an extra dollar or two for a fresh, fruity olive oil. Don’t buy basil unless it smells like a Sunday Italian supper.

What those Food Network stars are getting at is what  Dinner Rush! is all about: quick and easy dinner plans that come together as delicious dinner creations using a short list of very tasty ingredients. The more delicious your starting point, the more satisfying and effortless your slide finish into dinner time will be.

Caprese Sliders
Yield:  4 servings
Prep Time:  10 minutes
Active Time:  10 minutes
Total Time:  20 minutes
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
Salt and ground black pepper
1 pound mozzarella, sliced
3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup high-quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup basil leaves
8 slider-sized wheat buns

Place a large cast iron skillet over medium heat with the canola oil (alternately a gas or charcoal grill can be preheated and the oil can be used to lightly grease the grates).  Divide the ground beef into 8 equal portions and shape each into a small patty about the size of your rolls.  Season the outside of each patty liberally with salt and pepper and cook until seared, about 3 minutes.  Turn the patties, top each with a slice of mozzarella, and continue cooking until the cheese has melted and burgers are cooked to your liking, about 3 minutes for medium.

While the burgers are cooking, place the sun-dried tomatoes into the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse the machine a few times to roughly chop the tomatoes.  Turn the food processor on and stream the extra virgin olive oil in and continue mixing until the tomatoes are pureed, about 20 seconds.  Reserve.

When the burgers are ready, spread each bun bottom with a hearty dollop of tomato puree.  Arrange a few leaves of basil over the bun bottoms and top them with the cooked burgers.  Cap each of the sliders off with the bun top and serve.

COOK’S NOTE:  I went for sun-dried tomatoes to make the spread because of their sweet, concentrated tomato flavor -- they pack a punch and don’t make your burger bun soggy.

Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Bobby Deen and Paula Deen, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest tweets on Twitter at  @patrickwdecker  or visiting his website at  patrickwdecker.com .


So Much Pretty Food Here