photo courtesy of Il Ristorante di Villaggio Nettuno
Insalata Caprese is the first thing most gourmets think of when they hear “mozzarella.” It is the classic Italian salad made up of only three ingredients: mozzarella, red tomatoes, and basil leaves. Drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with freshly ground salt and pepper, bellissimo!
The ingredients should be the highest-quality, and the freshest. Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is, of course, the cheese of choice for this recipe, but Mozzarella Fior di Latte (cow’s milk mozzarella) is an acceptable substitute. Make sure the basil is young, tender, and fragrant; preferably grown in your own garden or on your windowsill. The tomatoes should be as ripe as you can get without being past their prime. Extra-virgin olive oil is a must, and as mild-tasting as you can find. Never, ever make true Insalata Caprese with any sort of vinegar!
Serve Insalata Caprese with a warm, soft, fresh bread and a glass of chilled white wine for a refreshing summer-time lunch or the first course of an evening summer meal.
Serves 4 as a main meal or 8 as a first course.
About ½ pound fresh Mozzarella di Bufala Campana
2-3 large tomatoes, cored and peeled*
1 large bunch fresh basil leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh ground sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature before starting.
Slice both the mozzarella and the tomatoes into ¼-inch thick slices. Layer the cheese and the tomato slices alternately in a fan-shape either on one large serving platter or on individual salad plates. Tuck a few whole basil leaves between the slices of mozzarella and tomato. Tear the rest of the basil leaves roughly into pieces and sprinkle over the cheese and tomato slices. (Tearing, instead of chopping, bruises the basil leaves, releasing their oils and fragrances.) Drizzle the olive oil over the slices just before serving and dust with the freshly ground sea salt and black pepper.
*To peel tomatoes more easily, dip them quickly into water that is at a rolling boil. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon, rub them lightly with a kitchen towel to slip the skins, then dunk briefly in ice water to chill them. Remove tomatoes from the ice water and allow to return to room temperature before slicing.