During my junior year of college I studied abroad in Italy with my now husband. We loved it so much we went back for our honeymoon in 2014. Both of us are foodie travelers, so we tend to choose our vacation destinations for the food on offer. Italy did not disappoint. I know you’ve all probably heard this before, but the freshness of the food is without compare. Nowhere is this fact more evident than with the simple dishes such as Puntarelle alla Romana or Insalata di Caprese.
When ordering caprese in an American restaurant you are more than likely to receive a dish with hothouse tomatoes or gummy mozzarella. Too often chefs attempt to hid sub par ingredients with creative sauces and garnishes. While these dishes can be good, they are not caprese. Traditional caprese is and should be a simple dish, made only with the best ingredients. And the star of the show is the tomato.
“The ambition of every good cook must be to make something very good with the fewest possible ingredients.” – Urbain Dubois
Heirloom tomatoes today are synonymous with the height of summer and I look forward to their appearance in my farmer’s market every year. Like a typical mid-Atlantic day they are heavy and ripe with promise. A perfect tomato is an exceedingly delicate thing. It feels as if it will burst if one uses other than the most feather-light of touches. Therefore, it is best to handle these multicolored, irregular globes with the same reverence as one would a newborn. Walking back from the farmer’s market, I find myself wishing I had a padded box, rather than the flimsy plastic grocery bag to carry them in. I fear I will make a careless move and my beautiful tomatoes will bruise and rot before I use them. But this time they arrive home safely, and I rest easy.
The weather here in Washington DC has been brutally hot and humid for the past few weeks and most days I can’t bring myself to turn on the stove. Sunday was one of those days so I decided to make a platter of caprese to nibble on while we re-watched season four of Game of Thrones.
The first thing I do is take the mozzarella out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature (about 1 hour or one episode of GoT). Then I take those lovely tomatoes, remove the stems, slice into 1/3 inch pieces, and arrange on a platter. I like to get several colors of tomato to make things extra pretty. Now it is time to add the mozzarella. You can certainly cut the cheese up into even cubes, rounds, or whatever – but I like the irregularity that tearing the cheese produces. Its also super satisfying and makes it much easier to sneak a few preemptive bites, you know, for quality control. Scatter about 1/2 cup of loosely packed, torn basil leaves evenly over the dish. Drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of that extra virgin olive oil over it and finish the dish off with a generous amount of good quality salt (such as kosher or sea salt) and freshly ground pepper.
Serve immediately if you can. The end result is a wonderful mixture of textures and tastes with meaty tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, bright basil, and crunchy salt and pepper. This dish is great as an appetizer for a large group or an entree for two to three.
A classic caprese salad for those days you can't face turning on the stove.
- 3 large heirloom tomatoes
- 2 large balls of fresh mozzarella (about 8 oz)
- 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil
Let mozzarella come to room temperature.
Cut tomatoes into 1/3 inch slices and arrange on a large platter.
Tear up mozzarella into bite sized pieces and scatter over the tomatoes.
Tear up basil leaves and scatter over tomatoes and mozzarella.
Sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil, kosher or sea salt, and fresh ground pepper. Serve immediately.
Make It Yourself:
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