'We have to find him'

Lincolnville police Sgt. Richie Hill wears a ribbon in support of South Carolina State constable Robert Lee Bailey during a news conference Thursday in Lincolnville.

Fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes are still weeks away in our neck of the woods. You know what we mean: those delicious orbs that grow right on your deck or in the garden and go straight from the vine into your favorite dish. Forgive the fawning, but we do look forward to tomato season. So until they are lining the windowsill and all we have to do is reach up, grab one and eat, roasting the tomatoes we can find is still the best way to bring out the natural flavor normally supplied by the sun.

Enter a favorite restaurant salad: the Caprese. A layered salad of fresh sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil leaves, we wondered how to enjoy this salad now. So we decided to roast garlic and tomatoes one night and stack them with fresh sliced mozzarella.

We were out of fresh basil and wondered if we would miss it. But a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and the blend of baby field greens beautifully substitutes that sweet bitter flavor the basil usually brings to the salad. There's no need for vinaigrette, because there's plenty of extra-virgin olive oil from the roasting.

The result was a delicious, easy entree salad. If all you need is a satisfying side salad, then each recipe will serve two.

So until the tomatoes are fresh off the vines and directly on our tables, a little roasting is all it takes for that smooth, sunshine-filled flavor we crave.

Menu

--Roasted Tomato and Garlic Mozzarella Salad

--Italian rolls

--Prosecco

Start to finish: 15 minutes

Yield: one serving as an entree; two servings as a side salad

Ingredients

1 large tomato

2 cloves fresh garlic

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup fresh baby field greens

3 slices (1 ounce each) fresh part-skim mozzarella

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450. Slice the tomato (unpeeled), and peel the garlic. Place both in a ceramic oven-safe dish. Drizzle with the oil, and roast uncovered five minutes or until the garlic is soft and golden and the tomatoes begin to darken on the edges.

Meanwhile, spread the greens on a small platter.

Remove the tomato from the oven, and layer carefully (the tomatoes will be fragile) with the sliced mozzarella over the greens. (It's OK if hot tomatoes slightly melt the cheese and gently wilt the greens.) Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Scatter garlic on the salad, and serve.

Approximate values per entree serving: 254 calories (65 percent from fat), 19g fat (5g saturated), 17mg cholesterol, 10g protein, 14g carbohydrates, 4 dietary fiber, 164mg sodium

Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are co-authors of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997). Contact them at Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016, or send email to tellus@kitchenscoop.com. Or visit the Desperation Dinners website at www.kitchenscoop.com.