• Tomato Caprese Cups with Blackened Shrimp

Caprese Cups with Blackened Shrimp

It’s summertime and that means lots and lots of summer tomatoes and classic Caprese salads right?  Well….it used to.  A big ol’ platter set out to share with family and friends is a memory from last year.  This year it’s all about how do I still socialize and picnic with friends but keep things to an individual portion.  This is my answer to that.  Caprese cups.  They can be made individually by each person and best of all the ingredients can be packed up before assembled and brought to an outdoor picnic anywhere.  

Campari tomatoes are a beautiful deep red in color and the perfect size for scooping out and stuffing for a small bite portion.  They are also sweeter and less acidic than other varietals so that makes them extra yummy to snack on and pairs great with the sweet balsamic glaze, homemade pesto and grilled blackened shrimp.  Okay I’m getting hungry again.  Let me move on. Here’s what you need to know…

Ingredients for Caprese Cups and Blackened Shrimp

Caprese Cup Ingredients

Ingredients for Caprese Cups

Step by Step


Start by making the balsamic reduction to drizzle over the top because it can be made several days ahead an stored in a container in the fridge.  If you don’t want to do this step store bought balsamic glaze is readily available and works great too.  No one will know the difference.

Add the balsamic vinegar (I really like the Costco brand) to a heavy bottomed saucepan set over medium heat and add the sugar.  Whisk to combine.   

Balsamic Glaze

Balsamic reduction – add sugar for sweetness

Bring to a boil and reduce to a very low simmer.  Tiny bubbles on the surface.  Let reduce until you have about half the liquid (about 10-15 minutes).  Mixture will continue to thicken as it cools.

Balsamic reducing

Balsamic vinegar reducing

Remove from heat and let cool slightly then pour into a container (a funnel helps) and refrigerate.

Finished Balsamic Reduction

Finished balsamic reduction


Next up make the pesto because this too can be made ahead and refrigerated or you can skip this step and use store bought.  Usually a day or two made ahead is fine.  You want to minimize any air getting into your container if making ahead because that’s what oxidizes the pesto and turns it from a beautiful green to a not-so-great-looking brownish green.  A tight seal of saran wrap and a little extra squeeze of lemon juice helps this.

Start by adding the garlic and pine nuts to the bowl of a food processor and pulse four or five times to chop.  It will get combined more later.

Making pesto

Start of making pesto


Torn fresh basil

Torn fresh basil

Add the basil to the food processor.

Add basil

Add basil to food processor and pulse a few times.

Add the remaining ingredients ( Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, salt) and combine then stream in the olive oil and keep it running until well mixed.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Finished Basil Pesto

Finished Basil Pine Nut Pesto


This step should be done an hour or two ahead at least to give the cheese time to soak up the flavors.  Again, in a pinch, you can buy the already marinated mozzarella but I really think the homemade makes a difference because you can add more or less flavor depending on your taste.  I like heat so I always go heavy on those red pepper flakes and the fresh zing of lemon zest is something you won’t get in the store bought version.

Marinate mozzarella

Add lemons zest and spices to fresh mozzarella

Marinated Mozzarella

Fresh basil and spices makes a flavorful marinade


Now you want to get those shrimp going.  Since this is a picnic dish the shrimp can be seasoned and cooked ahead of time and refrigerated.  They don’t need to be served hot.  You can do this step several hours ahead.  

Pat the shrimp dry using a paper towel to remove any excess moisture.  Generously season the shrimp with your favorite blackening spice.  I used Kinder’s brand (Cali’s blackened) – which had more of a sweet, smoky flavor than spicy.  But use whatever you like.

Season shrimp

Season shrimp

Then in a cast iron skillet or heavy sauté pan heat to medium high and add in the oil.  Once the pan and oil are hot (crucial) carefully add the shrimp in a single layer and cook about 1-2- minutes per side.  They should just turn pink and not be opaque anymore but you don’t want to overcook.  Remove from pan immediately and set aside.  Place in a container in the fridge until ready to transport to your picnic or serve.

Blackened Shrimp

Blackened Sautéed Shrimp


We are getting there! The final step and no cooking required.  This step is done last because tomatoes get mushy if you cut them and then refrigerate them.  So if you can avoid that do.  You want to cut the top 1/4 of the tomato off to give you a wide enough base to stuff.  The tomato adds some flavor to this dish but it’s also the receptacle for getting all those other yummy flavors into your mouth.  

Campari Tomatoes

Fresh Campari tomatoes


Core of tomato removed

Core of tomato removed and scooped out.  Then flip them over on a paper towel to drain for a few minutes.  Now it’s time to assemble!  If you are going on a picnic now’s the time to pack up.



Pack for a picnic

When you are ready…it’s easy to assemble.  Just place a little pesto down on your plate and scoop the mozzarella into the tomato.

Stuffed Tomatoes

Tomatoes stuffed with marinated mozzarella

Caprese cups finished

Caprese cups with blackened shrimp

And dollop the plate with balsamic vinegar.

Caprese Cups

Caprese Cups

Caprese Cups

Caprese Cups served up!

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Caprese Cups with Blackened Shrimp

Prep Time: 20mins
Makes: 8 servings


  • 8 Campari Tomatoes
  • 1 cup fresh ‘perline’ mozzarella cheese (small pearls), drained
  • 1 ½ tsp lemon zest
  • ¼ - ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 small cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 garlic clove
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 ½ tsp fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 salt
  • ¾ cup good quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 8 large raw shrimp, cleaned and deveined (shell removed)
  • Blackening seasoning (Kinder's brand or other favorite)
  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil or vegetable oil


  1. Make the balsamic reduction. Add the vinegar and sugar to a heavy bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Reduce by half and remove from heat.
  2. Make the pesto by combining the garlic and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse to chop. Then add in the basil and pulse to combine. Next add the lemon juice, salt, and parmesan and pulse and start streaming in the olive oil. Taste for seasoning.
  3. Marinate the mozzarella cheese. Place in a medium bowl and add in the garlic, spices, lemon zest, fresh basil and olive oil and toss gently. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Make the shrimp by cleaning them and patting them dry. Season generously on both sides. In a cast iron or heavy skillet at the oil and, when hot, cook the shrimp for 1-2 minutes per side (until pink). Set aside or refrigerate.
  5. Cut the top 1/4 off the tomatoes. Remove the core and flesh of the inside of the tomatoes and turn them upside down on a paper towel to drain. Set aside until ready to assemble.
  6. To assemble: On a plate place a bit of fresh basil for garnish and a dollop of pesto. Fill the tomatoes with the marinated mozzarella and then skewer a shrimp and place it through the flesh of the tomato or on the side. Dollop the plate with balsamic reduction and serve more on the side.

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