I know. No need to feel offended here. I appreciate that no one needs a recipe about how to make insalata caprese. It is just buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and extra-virgin olive oil, after all. Right? Right. WRONG.
Although I will recognise that no specific cooking knowledge or skills are required to make insalata caprese, it is definitely worth understanding what makes an authentic and scrumptious salad, rather than a pathetic imitation. If this sounds a bit harsh, I’ll blame it on the recent EU referendum… aye.
It is all about the quality of the ingredients you choose when you go shopping.
If you decide to treat your friends with insalata caprese, as a starter, for example, it is definitely not a good time to try and save money when shopping. So it is, in fact, an expensive meal (if made outside Italy).
The thing is… (deep breaths)… The thing is that there is no hiding with this dish. You cannot cover it up with spices, lemon, vinegar or dressings, which is what some people usually do to make up for the lack of flavour of something not very tasty or not of very good quality.
It is all down to the goodness of the buffalo mozzarella. And here, dear readers, is where my proud Campania identity comes out.
Known as “the queen of the Mediterranean cuisine”, “white gold” or “the pearl of the table”, the best buffalo mozzarelle are produced in Campania.
This is why I am not particularly tolerant of anything fake, produced in the UK and sold in many supermarkets as “mozzarella”.
So, as an old tacky Martini ad used to say… No mozzarella di bufala, no party!
If you can’t get hold of the real stuff, just replace it with cheddar and have a tomato and basil salad with it.
What I am trying to say is that you cannot cheat with this salad and cannot mess with the ingredients.
Too many times my husband and I went out for supper and saw “caprese salad” on the menu. Not once I did I think of going for it because the chances are that it is not mozzarella – rather mozzarella cheese, or some sort of alien they call mozzarella.
I feel it would be so much more honest of the restaurants to call it cheese and tomato salad, as if a person from Capri tasted it, they would get the kind of shock from which it’s very difficult to ever recover. “Drama queen!” you may think, but not really. I am totally relaxed about many things, but authentic mozzarella is one of the few things where I won’t take any prisoners.
Mess with the politics and all that, but not with insalata caprese. Especially these days when uncertainty in the political scene is so daunting, we need to take care of ourselves with really good food. If there is not much we can do about the current political climate, we can certainly take pleasure from awesome home-made meals.
Enough of my not so subtle rant. You get the whole picture. Insalata caprese should never be a pure display of white, red and green colours on a plate. If that is the effect you want, you can opt for hard boiled eggs, tomatoes and lettuce. Amazing, eh?
Go to a really good deli – aka jewellery shop – where a kilo of mozzarella costs as much as a diamond. Totally worth it. Except that diamonds last forever, whereas mozzarella… well, you know where that ends up.
Anyway, once you have sorted this out, you just need some really fresh basil and real extra-virgin olive oil. I recommend buying a really good one, such as Farchioni Il Casolare. And just keep it for seasoning salads; this way it will last you for a while. Done.
I am not claiming that this could be a weekly dish, but I’d personally rather have it once every 3 months than regularly go for the fake stuff. There is something unfair and unjust about doing this to your tastebuds and body. Everyone goes on about being healthy, being kind to your body etc. So to start with, ditch the fake stuff as it’s not good for you.
Last year when my daddy passed away, I spent two weeks in Naples to be with my mum and brother. The one thing I remember is quiet lunches on the terrace, eating insalata caprese. I found comfort in a very tasty dish that did not imply any cooking during the toughest days. Its bright colours cheered me up and the smell coming from the basil was somehow soothing. Life felt a little lighter that way.
Ingredients for insalata caprese
Serves 4 as a starter
- 500g mozzarella di bufala
- 700g tomatoes of Sorrento/cuore di bue tomatoes (about 2 big ones); as alternative use big salad tomatoes, not ripe
- A big bunch of basil
- About 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Recommended
- Pepper (optional)
Chop the mozzarella into slices and let the excess milk drain by placing them in a sieve with a plate underneath.
Wash and dry the tomatoes. Slice them, not too thick.
Wash and dry the basil. In a serving plate place alternately a slice of mozzarella, one of tomato and some basil in between, slightly overlapping. Just like in the picture.
This is just an idea for the presentation, but you can get creative! Sprinkle some salt, be generous with extra-virgin olive oil. Serve with some toasted bread or your home-made focaccia🙂 A truly divine summer dish.
And if you are on the go, just move some of it to a freshly baked ciabatta and run, run away, happy, with your insalata caprese in your hand. Just like the end of an old-fashioned romantic film that shows the couple in love running hand in hand – except that here your lover is your ciabatta…