Remember me? I'm back, and I can't say for how long, but I made something this afternoon for dinner tonight that is going to be absolutely amazing.
We are grilling out with some friends this evening. It's about 85 degrees outside, humid and breezy. Just about as summer-ish as you can get and when the weather is like this, I find myself remembering the summer I spent in Italy. It was before my foodie days, before I was a brave eater, but even boring food in Italy is delicious. So, I ate what I recognized. Gelato (obviously), pizza (obviously), and salami and cheese sandwiches were staples for me. Italians also know how to bake bread. Oh, the breads were amazing. I was there for 3 months, and I didn't eat out all the time, so I spent a little time at the markets, buying fresh veggies and pastas that I'd sauté with some olive oil and fresh basil. One of the other things I ate a lot of was Insalata Caprese, a traditional Italian primi piatti or antipasto, first course. Caprese salad can be found in a lot of American restaurants, as well, and there are a lot of variations. Traditionally, it is made with buffalo mozzerella, fresh basil, tomatoes, olive oil and salt. I have seen it on different menus with balsamic vinegar, parsley, feta, kalamata olives, heated on crust as margharita pizza, or in sandwich or panini form.
All of these variations are good, in their own rights, but I prefer the simplest, most traditional rendition. I usually do my caprese salad in a mock-terrine fashion, layering the cheese, basil and tomatoes in a deep, round pyrex bowl. I either slice the tomatoes or cut them into a large dice. The diced tomatoes make the salad much easier to dig into out of the pyrex bowl. I just love the way the salad looks and being chilled for several hours makes all of the flavors blend perfectly.
Nothing tastes fresher to me than this Caprese Salad.
Layered Caprese Salad
4-5 large, ripe tomatoes
2 packages of fresh basil leaves, rinsed
16 oz log of fresh mozzarella (generally found in the "gourmet" cheese section of the grocery store)
salt and pepper
Peel the tomatoes and cut them into a large dice. Put them in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, add in 1 Tablespoon of minced garlic and season with salt and pepper. Let sit while you prepare the basil and mozzarella. Tear the basil leaves off of the stems, rinse them and pat dry with a paper towel. Leave the leaves whole. Slice the mozzarella into 1/4"thin slices. In your deep, round bowl, layer all of the ingredients: Line the bottom of the bowl with 1 layer of cheese slices, top with basil leaves, covering the entire cheese layer, laying the leaves flat. Spoon a layer of the tomato mixture over the basil. I generally have enough ingredients for 4 layers of cheese, basil and tomatoes. Gently press the layers down as you go. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Enjoy!
My picture doesn't give a great idea of the size of bowl I use. It's a 1.75 quart bowl, about 7" across and 3" deep.