Blog-wise, I’m on a time delay of several weeks. I was going to publish my French Onion soup recipe from the end of May, but it’s been too hot to turn the oven on, let alone even think about tucking into a steaming hot bowl of beef and wine-infused broth, teeming with carmelized onions and topped with rounds of garlic toasts slathered with melted Gruyere. So I’ll save that one for a rainy day.
Instead, here’s the perfect summer recipe. Caprese salad is a Neapolitan dish from the island of Capri. It can be served as a meal on its own, as an appetizer or a side dish, or over pasta. Simple to make, lovely to look at and good to eat! Use only the best ingredients.
Mozzarella is a generic term for several kinds of originally Italian cheeses that are made using spinning and then cutting (hence the name; the Italian verb mozzare means “to cut”). Buffalo have been populating the once-waterlogged regions south of Rome (Lazio, Caserta) and south of Naples (Campania) since the 6th century. With their large hooves, these strong animals were used to plough muddy southern-Italian terrain for centuries, but the first record of mozzarella was found in the writings of 12th-century monks.
According to the Mozzarella di Bufala Campagna DOP website, the experts are still out to lunch on the origins of the water buffalo in Italy. The most likely hypothesis is that Norman kings, c. 1000, brought them into southern Italy from Sicily, where they had been introduced by the Arabs. However, others (who shall remain nameless) believe that the buffalo originated in Italy, a theory based on fossils found in the Roman countryside (can you say ‘Uomo di Piltdown’?), as well as results of recent studies that appear to demonstrate that Italian buffalos have a different phylogeny than Indian buffalos.
Import or indigenous? The debate continues, but foodies the world over (and this reporter) all concur that the best darned mozzarella cheese is still made from buffalo milk.
Fresh mozzarella cheese balls are sold in a brine, whey or water solution which helps them retain hydration and shape. It is smooth, mild, and slightly sweet/sour with a distinct milk flavour. The texture is creamy and much softer than mass-processed mozzarella. Mozzarella di buffala is made from the milk of domesticated water buffalo. Fior di latte mozzarella is made from cow’s milk.
Bruschetta con Insalata Caprese
- Fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced
- Fresh mozzarella, mozzarella di buffala or fior di latte, sliced
- Fresh basil leaves, torn
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Freshly ground pepper and salt
- Crusty Italian or French bread
- Garlic cloves
To prepare the salad
Attractively arrange the sliced tomatoes and cheese on a platter. Scatter with the basil leaves and season with pepper and salt. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
To prepare the bruschetta
Bruschetta is grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. In Italian, bruschetta is pronounced /bru-ske-ta/, though in English-speaking countries it is commonly pronounced as /bru-she-ta/. The noun “bruschetta” is from the verb in the Roman dialect “bruscare,” meaning “to roast over coals.” Following a semantic shift, some Americans now use the word bruschetta to refer to the topping instead of the dish.
Preheat the oven to 425°F/190°C, or build a coal fire. Slice the bread into ¾” rounds and toast for about 5 minutes, or until crispy and lightly browned. Rub each side with half a clove of garlic and drizzle with some olive oil.
Arrange 3 or 4 bruschette on a serving plate and top with some of the salad.
*A little inside joke with Mr. Coxon. Bristol, takeaway pizza, Mickey Rooney . . . . Aaah, sweet memories.