I love jello. There, I actually said it. And I’ve never understood why it’s considered déclassé. It’s cool and refreshing in summer. It can be made with any number of fresh fruits, juices, vegetables, or seafoods. It’s pretty and fun to make. And finally, it jiggles. What’s not to love there?
This recipe for a retro-style tomato, basil, and goat cheese gelatin salad was inspired by a slapstick-like dinner we recently had at our house. We have a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes in our garden now and used them, for a change, to make our favorite variation on Caprese salad. However, these tiny tomatoes kept rolling off our plates when we attempted to spear them, and we wound up eating the salad with our hands. Through the laughter, it occurred to me that encasing the salad in a 1950s-style vegetable stock aspic would make it both easier to eat and be suitably summery too. And the result of this recipe experiment? This salad requires considerably more preparation time than a conventional fresh tomato, basil, and goat cheese salad, and its flavor is roughly the same. But it would work well when a special, make-ahead summer salad is needed that generates both smiles and wows.
This salad can be made in a 6-cup, family-sized gelatin mold or in individual servings. I chose to make individual servings and used six 8-ounce paper cups as molds for this recipe.
1/2 cup water, at room temperature
2 1/2 teaspoons (one packet) unflavored gelatin powder
2 1/2 cups clear, strained homemade vegetable broth, see notes below the recipe (or 2 vegetable bouillon cubes dissolved in 2 1/2 cups water)
3 cups fresh cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
10-12 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
1 cup goat cheese (chevre)
A pinch of ground black pepper
A salad dressing of 2 tablespoons olive oil mixed with 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- Prepare your gelatin mold(s) by lightly spraying the interior(s) with vegetable oil and then lightly wiping with a paper towel. Set aside. Clear level spaces both in your freezer and your refrigerator large enough to accommodate the mold(s) you have selected.
- Pour 1/2 cup water into a bowl, sprinkle with the gelatin powder, stir, and set aside for 5 minutes until the gelatin has fully dissolved. In a saucepan, bring the vegetable broth (or bouillon) to a boil and stir in the water/gelatin mix. Remove the pan from the burner and set aside on the countertop until the mixture reaches room temperature.
- Pour a 1/8-inch layer of the broth/gelatin mixture into the bottom of the gelatin mold(s) and place the mold(s) in the freezer for about five minutes or until the mixture has just jelled.
- Remove the mold(s) from the freezer, evenly distribute all the halved tomatoes in the gelatin mold(s), and lightly compact them. Pour in sufficient broth/gelatin mix just to cover, and return the mold(s) to the freezer for about ten minutes or until the broth/gelatin mixture has just jelled.
- Remove the mold(s) from the freezer, evenly distribute all of the sliced basil in the gelatin mold(s) and lightly compact. Pour in sufficient broth/gelatin mix just to cover and return to the freezer for about ten minutes or until the broth/gelatin mix has just jelled.
- Remove the mold(s) from the freezer. In the container of a food processor or chopper, blend the goat cheese, pepper, and 1/4 cup of the remaining broth/gelatin mix. Pour all of the cheese/gelatin blend into the gelatin mold(s), distributing it evenly, and place the mold(s) in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours. Just before serving, dip the exterior of the gelatin mold(s) in tepid water for about 30 seconds, invert onto a serving plate, and shake firmly to release the salad from the mold(s). Serves 6 as a side salad with the prepared dressing on the side.
To make your own vegetable broth, combine in a saucepan 3 cups water, 1 peeled onion, 1 small carrot, 1/2 celery stalk, 2 sprigs parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Boil for 10 minutes, strain through a fine sieve, reserve the vegetables for another use (or discard them), and return 2 1/2 cups of the broth to the saucepan for use in the recipe above.