Insalata Caprese –
It’s Caprese this and Caprese that.. CAPRESE SALAD – EVERYTHING CAPRESE! Really? Everything? That’s what you’d think if you look at today’s restaurant and catering menus. Everyone is going “Caprese”. It is in that spirit that we will attempt to dissect this popular Italian dish and see what’s really going on here – perhaps even offer some alternative ideas for it .
So let’s take a look at what a Caprese salad is and is not and check out some variations. These salads are found and enjoyed most often in the summer for the obvious reason that the required vegetables, especially tomatoes, are found in abundance in the summer months. It only makes sense. It is rather pathetic to try to create one of them with a winter tomato bearing no flavor. It is during the summer months, that we need to go no further than to tiptoe barefoot in our own gardens to reap the jewels of the season. For those without gardens – que peccato – but there are always the wonderful farmer’s markets!
So what is Caprese really?? Caprese means in the style of Capri – an island on the southern edge of the Gulf of Naples and home to the famous Blue Grotto. It is said the salad originated there, but in its simplistic and true form with tomatoes, basil or oregano, and olive oil – one would think they might have been making this in other areas in Italy. In fact, they did and do – with some slight changes. In Sorrento, they tend to use only fresh oregano. Even in Capri, you’ll find the salad served often with arugula. Almost always, the fior di latte (made with cow’s milk – not buffalo) is in the Capri version. When I was growing up in a Neapolitan household, we ate this salad all summer long with the freshest pick of the tomatoes from my father, Attilio’s garden. Here he is hard at work, looking for the ripe ones!
My mother always prepared her Caprese Salad the same way (although she never called it by that name) with fresh ripe tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper, and olive oil. That was IT! In fact, using only olive oil – is the traditional way to prepare it. We sometimes had it with mozzarella, but in the true Caprese style – NO VINEGAR!
The Vinegar thing: In more recent times, you see vinegar – wine or balsamic used on the Caprese Salad. This is the “revisionist” method and not in the original. I like to think that adding vinegar evolved from the American need for more complicated flavors and, perhaps, the absence of a more sophisticated appreciation for the pure taste of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Since it is fun to change things up a little – and in honor of the theme Everything Caprese, we’ll try some different twists on this rustic garden delight. We’ll look at three different versions: Stacked Caprese, Caprese Salad with Roasted Beets, and Peach Caprese. The Stacked version is fairly true to the original. The Peach deviates a little by adding a touch of Balsamic Vinegar because it compliments the sweet peaches, and it just seems right. The Caprese with the Roasted Beets offers its own form with the exchange of Goat Cheese for the Mozzarella. Choosing which one to make first is like choosing a favorite from one of your children – impossible. We’ll close our eyes and throw a dart…
The Stacked Caprese Salad
(see photo above)
Makes: about 2 Stacks – Serves 2
3 Large Heirloom Tomatoes (approx.) – in assorted colors e.g. red, yellow, and dark red if you can get them
4 Slices Fresh Mozzarella
Several Large fresh Basil Leaves
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Slice the tomatoes and the Mozzarella. You should have enough for at least 2 stacks.
Begin stacking with a slice of tomato – sprinkle with Salt and Pepper and add a small drizzle of Extra Virgin. Then put a couple of basil leaves.
Place a mozzarella slice on top – repeat the salt, pepper, oil, and basil leaves.
Repeat these steps until you have a stack with 3 slices of tomato – preferably in different colors, 2 mozzarella slices, and basil leaves between each layer.
Top with salt, pepper, a drizzle of oil and a basil leaf. Finito!
CAPRESE STYLE PEACH SALAD
2 C. Baby Heirloom tomatoes (pretty with the different colors)
2 Fresh Peeled Peaches – especially good if you grill them first! – cut into pieces
1 Avocado – cut up
4 oz. Fresh Mozzarella – cut up
1 Tbsp. Grated Parmigiano- Reggiano or Montasio Cheese (lovely and sweet)
Several Basil Leaves
Fresh Blueberries – optional – if you like
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A little Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic Glaze – optional
Slice the baby tomatoes into halves.
Cut up the peaches – grill them first for an extra treat!
Place the tomatoes, peaches, and avocado in a bowl and mix gently.
Chop the mozzarella and add.
Add some blueberries, if you like!
Add the salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic, and grated cheese and gently fold together. The amount of olive oil and vinegar is up to you. I like a good drizzle of the oil and just small touch of the vinegar.
If using the Balsamic Glaze which is just a finish on this – drizzle it JUST BEFORE you serve. It really delivers an added slightly bolder sweetness to the salad – lovely.
Caprese Salad with Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese
1 Large Heirloom Tomato or 2 Medium
2 Medium Yellow or Golden Beets
Honey for roasting the beets
4 oz. Goat cheese
Several Fresh Basil Leaves
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Peel the beets and roast them. Do this ahead and chill them after roasting. For easy instructions on roasting beets see: THIS POST
Slice the tomatoes and arrange flat on a plate.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with Extra Virgin.
Slice the roasted chilled beets and lay them in a layer over the tomatoes – sprinkle some salt and pepper if desired.
Add crumbled goat cheese and basil leaves.
Drizzle with Extra Virgin. Serve!
PARLA COME MANGI!
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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography