As a little kid (and a college kid, and a newly married kid) one of my favorite junk food treats was a crispy, fried mozzarella stick. There is just nothing better than biting into a crunchy layer of browned bread crumbs followed by the oooey- goooey- goodness of cheese. Well, maybe even better is giving that a dip into some spicy marinara sauce. But after my second baby I started to feel my metabolism slowing down and by baby number four it was quite apparent that an indulgent mozzarella stick would hang around (in the form of hips and tummy) for far longer than I wanted. It was clear I had to avoid one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Until now!
When the beautiful box of heirloom tomatoes arrived at my BB site I was totally thrilled! I knew I wanted to make something that would showcase the tomatoes (no humble sauce for these babies). Of course, my mind went immediately to caprese. This simple combination of tomato, basil, and mozzarella started off as a salad but has lots of variations. I make a delish caprese pasta, bruschetta on bread is a family fave, and of course the Margherita Pizza is always a hit. I wanted to do something different but wanted to keep the classic flavors of the caprese. When the craving for a good, old-fashioned fried mozzarella stick began to fill my mind (and my mouth) I started to create a plan for a healthier, grown-up version of the snack, and in those moments Mozzarella Stick Stackers were born.
I started by freezing slices of mozzarella cheese. Yes, freezing them. The cheese has to be totally frozen for this or it will melt long before the coating browns. I then made up a yummy bread coating by mixing a bit of oregano, garlic powder, pepper, and finely grated parmesan cheese (because what goes better with cheese than more cheese?) into bread crumbs. In our case I used gluten-free Chex cereal run through the food processor until it was the consistency of panko crumbs. This is my go-to coating for my gluten-free family. After the cheese slices sat in the freezer for about 30 minutes I took them out, dipped them in egg, coated them in the crumb mix (nice and thick and even on both sides) and then put them back on a foil-lined, greased baking sheet. Then they went back into the freezer for another 15 minutes. Once they were frozen I baked them and then piled them up with a rainbowed assortment of sliced heirloom tomatoes and basil leaves. I topped that off with a drizzle of a peppery balsamic vinegar and some olive oil. The resulting dish was absolutely delectable. The baked cheese slices had that ooey- gooey-goodness I was craving with a lot less of the guilt. The heirloom tomatoes slightly softened from the heat of the baked cheese and mixed with the aromatic basil to give the hint of a marinara but offering a bolder texture and a brighter taste. We paired it with a crispy salad and the whole family came away feeling satisfied but not greasy, heavy, or guilty. Grab those heirloom tomatoes, freeze some cheese, and enjoy this healthy spin on a junk-food favorite.