The time has come again for that quintessential summer dish, the one I could relish eating every day, the reason I have scads of basil in my garden every year: Insalata Caprese, or salad made in the style of the isle of Capri (off Italy’s southwestern coast). I get even more excited about making this simple salad when I come across true mozzarella made with buffalo milk. It’s more expensive than the rubbery, non-creamy American versions, but when you’re only using three ingredients to make a salad – and two of those are (preferably) coming from your own garden – it’s worth splurging a bit on one of your show-stoppper stars.
Buffalo-milk mozzarella is very light and creamy and has a faint earthy flavor that plays off well against the acidity of the tomatoes and vinegar and the almost-overriding fragrant freshness of the basil. If you can’t find mozzarella di bufalo, though, go for cow’s-milk mozzarella balls in brine. Those will still be much creamier and fresher than the standard hard-block mozzarella that you’d normally grate onto pizza. (The really fresh stuff is so fresh and creamy that it would smush if you tried to grate it.) And if you have multiple varieties of basil in your garden or market, try including more than one in your Insalata Caprese – you’ll add color and a choice of flavors, plus you might stumble upon a new favorite! The same goes for tomatoes.
Tomatoes (any kind works, so play around to see what you like best), sliced into thin rounds
Fresh basil (again, feel free to include various types of basil), sliced into ribbons
Fresh-milk brined mozzarella cheese (go for buffalo-milk mozzarella if you can get it), gently cut into rounds/bite-sized pieces
Balsamic vinegar, preferably the kind aged with grape must rather than the kind with caramel color added (check the ingredients list!)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
The proportions of this easy-to-assemble salad are up to you: go with equal parts of tomatoes, basil, and cheese, or heap on the tomatoes if tomatoes are your favorite element. I am a HUGE basil fan, so as Emeril would say, I usually kick up the basil content many notches.
After you’ve assembled your salad – assembling works better than tossing since cut basil and fresh-milk mozzarella are both tender and prone to falling/ripping apart when tossed – drizzle it with equal portions of vinegar and oil. Start by drizzling just a bit; there’s no need to drown your salad in dressing, and you can always add more later. (Note: if you have dressing left on your plate after eating your salad, don’t waste it! Use it as a dip for bread, crackers, or veggies. Good-quality balsamic and olive oil tastes so good that I usually just drink the little bit remaining on the plate.) Sprinkle on a little salt and pepper and serve immediately before your vibrantly green basil can become a not-so vibrant oxidized black.
Courtesy of Cultured Cook.
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