Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Caprese Salad Recipe

So simple and elegant the Insalata Caprese is, no? I simply love diving into this classic salad straight from the Campania region of Italy, and this year's crop of Virginia's own Hanover tomatoes has elevated the easy insalata to new heights. Maybe it's the beauty of a good summer drought that made our 2011 tomatoes so strikingly sweet and acidic, but whatever the mystery conditions are, I'll say this, they're equally tasty sandwiched between two slices of white bread spread with a couple of tablespoons of Duke's mayo as they are beautifully layered between fresh basil and mozzarella.
So, take your pick on how to maximize the last of this year's bounty, but if you decide to tackle the Caprese, here are a few basics to make this already simple salad even better (as if that's possible).

First, only use the best summer tomatoes, which means they should be bright and reflect a deep, shiny color (red, orange or ruby, depending). While cracks and imperfections are often part of the deal, especially with Hanover's, make sure the splits in your tomato don't feel squishy. There should also be a sweet-like aroma to them, so put one up to your nose and take a good whiff.
Naturally, this recipe calls for the freshest basil, and I recommend growing your own in a pot. It's not hard get your basil to explode if you plant it in a well-drained pot that's full sun, and trust me, I am no green thumb, so if I can do it so can you. Also, Genovese basil is most preferred for Italian dishes.
Finally, the cheese. Typically this dish is made with fresh buffalo mozzarella (made from buffalo milk), but that's not the easiest to come by in the states. However, there are still plenty fresh mozzarellas out there that will suffice. You can try your had at making your own or you can pick some up at a local cheese shop, such as our very own River City Cellars, which has also been known to carry ooey gooey burrata cheese as well. However you decide to procure your cheese, just make sure it isn't wrapped in plastic (yuck) and ideally looks something like this (from a real Roman pizzeria).
When it comes to dressing this salad, less is most definitely more. Traditionally, these colors of the Italian flag are only drizzled in high-qual extra virgin olive oil and then sprinkled with salt and pepper since many believe that the acidity of vinegar or lemons will overwhelm the delicate tomatoes. However, I've found that adding just a touch of white balsamic, which I think is a tad milder than its darker cousin, works nicely for this dish. White balsamic also doesn't detract from the inherent beauty of this salad with pools of darkened oil.
So, give this salad a whirl while you can because Fall is headed our way and those precious tomatoes shall be no more. Serve this fresh, colorful first course at room temperature with a large chunk of crusty bread and a glass of Sangiovese.

Insalata Caprese

4 large vine ripened tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch thick
Large handful of basil leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon good quality balsamic vinegar (preferably white vinegar)
Plenty of extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Generously salt and pepper your tomatoes. On a large oblong platter, lay down three slices of tomato. Top with three slices of mozzarella. Then top each with a large basil leaf. Repeat until you have used up all of your ingredients.

Lightly sprinkle salad with balsamic vinegar and drizzle generously with olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to serve.

Serves 4

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1 comment:

  1. That looks delicious! I love mozzarella!


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