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Insalata Caprese Recipe - Mozzarella and Tomato Salad

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Insalata Caprese -- tomatoes and mozzarella with olive oil and basil -- is gloriously simple, and so good that one would have to invent it if the Campanians hadn't already seen to it. It does require perfect ingredients, however: Sun-ripened tomatoes and basil, good Mozzarella, from buffalo (not bison) milk if possible, and excellent olive oil. Food fit for a king!

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds (1 k) ripe tomatoes, sliced, seeded, and drained
  • A fresh mozzarella (buffalo milk if possible) weighing about a pound, diced.
  • Fresh basil leaves, hand-shredded (8-10 or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, or to taste
  • Pepper and salt (if necessary)
  • A pinch of oregano
  • 1 tablespoon salted capers, or to taste (optional)
  • 1/4 pound pitted black olives (the sweet variety that's cured in brine) or to taste, chopped (optional)

Preparation:

Slice the tomatoes into rounds and put them on 6 plates; slice the mozzarella into rounds and lay them over the tomatoes. Season with the olive oil, basil, origano, and a little salt and pepper. Serves 6-8.

Several notes:
Absolute purists make their insalata Caprese with just tomatoes, mozzarella, salt, and olive oil. However, there are Campani (Capri is just off-shore from Naples, in the region of Campania) who also add a little oregano, so I have included it as an ingredient. You can omit it if you wish.

Olives and capers are another matter; traditional recipes don't call for them, and if one wants to be strict a Caprese that includes them really isn't a Caprese. However, if you like them, they do add a pleasant touch. If you do include them, use whatever olives you prefer -- sweet black is my preference -- and mix them in with the tomatoes. Pickled capers, on the other hand, won't work well; in the absence of salted capers I would omit capers entirely.

If you are pressed for time you can make a "caprese" ahead by combining the ingredients in a bowl and lightly chilling them. This also works well for picnics and cookouts, though if I'm taking a "caprese" to a cookout, I simply chop the tomatoes rather than carefully slice them.

Finally, if you can find mozzarella made from buffalo milk (mozzarella di bufala, in Italian), try it in a caprese. The animals are water buffalo, and have been raised in the marshlands of Campania for so long that people no longer know exactly when they arrived -- probably under the Romans, though where they got them is not clear. In any case, the milk from a water buffalo imparts a richer, tangier taste to the cheese that works very well with both tomatoes and olive oil. If you cannot find it, use mozzarella fior di latte (cow's milk mozzarella), which also gives excellent results.

Yield: 4 servings of Insalata Caprese.

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