Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Fresh Mozzarella Salad: 'Caprese'

It's spring in Atlanta, the most magical time. The daffodils and camelias and Japanese magnolias and helebores are nearly past, the flowering cherries are in full bloom and the dogwoods and azaleas are emerging. Oh yes, and the tree pollens are blowing, giving a vernal gray-green dusting to everything. I have basil plants ready to set out, still in movable pots for another week or two to be sure we don't get one last freeze. But the tender leaves are there for cooking. And the first thing for them is fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil: Insalata Caprese, salad in the manner of the Isle of Capri.

This delightful, simple 'salad' or appetizer, laid out on a plate and sporting the beautiful colors of the Italian flag, makes a wonderful antipasto course or salad for the buffet table. The ultimate fresh mozzarella ('fior di latte', or flower of milk), is made from buffalo ('bufala') milk, which is produced in Italy. But the more ordinary fresh domestic one, in its ball shape of various sizes, is also luscious.

The tomatoes are important. The Italian original was the San Marzano or plum type, to which our Roma is the closest. But the most important thing is that the tomatoes be ripe. Off season, the tastiest may be grape tomatoes. Good extra virgin olive oil is essential too.

This recipe serves six as an appetizer or side dish. While some, like the French, do not usually serve wine with the salad course, others do. And unlike most actual salads, Caprese does not have vinegar or lemon juice. A cold white wine with a little tartness -- acidity -- like a Sauvignon Blanc or a good Pinot Grigio will hold up nicely with this dish. Warmed crusty bread like ciabatta or baguette goes well with the salad, to mop up the olive oil.

Fresh Mozzarella and Basil Salad Tim

2 ripe large regular tomatoes or 3 large Roma tomatoes or 1-3/4 cups of grape tomatoes
1 container (8 ounces, or more) fresh mozzarella cheese, any size
6-8 fresh basil leaves, more if small
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon capers (optional), drained

Wash the tomatoes and if using regular or Roma tomatoes, slice them 1/4-inch thick. Arrange on a serving plate or platter. If using the larger type of fresh mozzarella (‘ouova’), slice them 1/4-inch thick. For the smaller mozzarellas, leave them whole. Arrange them among the tomatoes. Sprinkle the cheese and tomatoes lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Rinse off the basil leaves. Stack them up on a cutting board and slice them in 1/8-inch slices. (Alternatively, if the leaves are small, they can be used whole.) Distribute the basil over the tomatoes and cheese. Shortly before serving, drizzle lightly with olive oil. If capers are used, drain them well and sprinkle them on the salad.

Serve with warmed Italian or French bread.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i tried this, but added some balsamic vinegar - so good!! also made raita from your recipe with papadums and curry - fantastic. thanks again, your dishes are just lovely.


8:51 AM  
Blogger Tim Dondero said...

Kristi: I'm glad the Caprese balsamico worked for you. I like Balsamic, but find that for me the color muddies the caprese more than it improves flavor -- a personic reaction. The main way I'm using balsamic these days on quick things is sprinkling a little of it plus a few grains of salt on ripe avocado halves or slices.


6:13 PM  

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