Farming our way through North Carolina. Here’s an inside peek into the fields of Harvest Farms and what you can make with fresh, local Tomatoes.
This past week, I had the pleasure of attending a 3-day Farm Tour sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. I traveled with eleven other bloggers as we explored the region of Western North Carolina (primarily Asheville). We visited several farms, restaurants, bed & breakfasts, and learned the history behind Ingles Markets.
Before we departed on our journey back home, we woke up bright and early to try our hands at farming with Cassandra Benfield, owner of Harvest Farm in Black Mountain. This conventional family farm grows an assortment of produce including Tomatoes, Cabbage, Potatoes, Squash, and Corn (just to name a few).
Cassandra is a 5th generation farmer, descending from a family that primarily grows Christmas Trees. Did you know that Christmas Trees take 7-10 years to grow from a seedling to a fully grown tree? Talk about dedication and patience!
After starting a family of her own, Cassandra began to brain-storm on how she would get her children interested in farming. This is when she decided to grow produce instead of trees, so her two children could experience harvesting fruits and vegetables year-round.
Cherry Tomatoes are ready to be picked 65-70 days after planting; they are available year-round with a peak season in the summer months. These sun-ripened fruits are generally sweeter than larger tomatoes and are bursting with flavor. They are a versatile ingredient that brightens the flavor of any meal.
We were sent home with the produce that we picked and I couldn’t wait to whip up a recipe using these fresh, local Tomatoes. I had a small clam-shell (plastic container) full of Cherry Tomatoes, fresh Basil growing in my backyard, and some fresh Mozzarella in my refrigerator… so it was only logical to make a Chopped Caprese Salad. Traditionally this dish is served as an appetizer or side item, but it was my goal to make these delicious Tomatoes my main attraction, so we served this salad a little differently.
Dinner Idea: Caprese Chicken Over Greens & Beans (serves 2)
Chopped Caprese Salad is piled high over Grilled Chicken and a bed of Sautéed Spinach & White Beans with Crispy Cracker Breadcrumbs.
This dish transforms a classic caprese salad recipe and turns it into an incredibly delicious, full meal.
It’s the perfect combination of seasonal flavors, balancing bright Tomatoes & Basil with mellow Spinach & Beans.
- 1 small container of Cherry Tomatoes (about 1.5 cups), chopped in half
- 6-8 Basil Leaves (about ¼ cup), chopped
- 1 clove Garlic, minced
- 8 ounces Whole Milk Mozzarella, chopped into bite sized pieces
- ½ cup Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 tbsp. Olive Oil (I love using Greek Olive Oil in this recipe)
- S + P, to taste
- 2 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
- 1 tbsp. Taco Seasoning
- 1 large bunch of Fresh Spinach (about 10 cups)
- 1 (15-ounce) can Cannellini Beans, rinsed & drained
- 3-4 Tbsp. Olive Oil, for sautéing
- 2 cloves Garlic, minced
- S + P, to taste
- 1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes, optional
- ¼ cup Breadcrumbs or Crushed Crackers (we used Club Crackers)
- 1 tbsp. Butter
- Prepare Caprese Salad: Chop all Vegetables and Mozzarella and place in a large mixing bowl. Gently toss with Balsamic Vinegar, Olive Oil and Salt + Pepper. Set aside until you're ready to plate.
- Season the Chicken with desired seasonings: I like to use Taco Seasoning but you can use whatever seasoning you prefer. Grill on medium-high for about 7 minutes on each side, or until internal temperature reaches 165F and juices run clear.
- While the Chicken is grilling, prepare the sautéed Greens: Heat Olive Oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat and add Garlic and Crushed Red Pepper. Sauté for 1 minute before adding the Spinach. In large handfuls, add Spinach in batches and mix constantly until wilted (about 10 minutes). Psst...Don't forget to flip your Chicken while cooking this!
- Rinse and drain the Cannellini Beans and add to the skillet: Continue to cook for another 4-5 minutes, or until beans are heated through.
- In a separate pan, melt the Butter and add Crushed Crackers: Sauté until the Crackers are golden, about 4 minutes.
- Assemble the plates: First lay down a bed of Spinach & Beans and sprinkle with crispy Crushed Crackers. Next add the Grilled Chicken Breast and top with Caprese Salad. Serve Immediately.
MY OTHER ASHEVILLE ADVENTURES:
For more photos of our tour, look up #NCFarmTour on Instagram and Facebook.
Below is a list of the bloggers who attended the tour – make sure to follow their blogs for more posts about our trip!
Kristen Baughman – Table Top Media Group
Tessa Nguyen – Taste Nutrition Consulting
Heidi Billotto – Heidi Billotto Food
Quinn & Paten Carlton – SoulFull Sisters
Chrissie Nelson Rotko – Off the Eaten Path
Mallory Middleton – The Cheers Years
Leslie Heigh – Sobee Savvy
Sarah Schlichter – Bucket List Tummy
Leah McGrath – Ingles Markets
Heather Lifsey Barnes – North Carolina Department of Agriculture
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