Sunday, 16 August 2015
Late summer brings with it tomato season. Tomatoes are used in such a wide variety of dishes across so many different cuisines around the world. Although no cuisine has captured the virtue of this fruit more than Italian. This dish is a great example of how they do it. Caprese salad is a simple combination of fresh mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil with olive oil, salt, pepper and some people (myself included) like it with balsamic vinegar as well. Only a few simple ingredients that require no cooking whatsoever come together to form a very balanced and beautiful dish. Caprese salad is normally served as a first course rather than a side dish so it gets the full appreciation it deserves.
A common way of serving Caprese salad is by slicing the tomato and mozzarella in pieces of equal thickness and either stacking of layering them with leaves of fresh basil. I wanted to splurge on a burrata, a creamy mozzarella which in my area is an expensive and usually seasonal treat. You can use any kind of mozzarella you like. I'm a fan of the stacking/layering technique that you often see with Caprese salad, but you can't slice burrata. Burrata is literally a purse of mozzarella filled with a gooey, rich mixture of mozzarella and cream. It's a spreadable texture. It makes a beautiful Caprese salad but it's a little non-traditional. Feel free to do whatever you think is best. I have seen Caprese salad made with burrata that was spooned between slices of tomato in a stack. If that appeals to you then go right ahead.
If you can find heirloom tomatoes then I encourage you to use those. An heirloom tomato is a tomato that has no chemically engineered, genetic factors that so many commercial tomatoes do. These artificial mutations were added to make them appear bigger, more uniform in colour and more marketable. Over the 20th century, particularly here in the Americas, tomatoes were genetically engineered to be a certain way so that they look better and have a longer shelf life. Unfortunately all of these genetic enhancements have come at a cost: flavour. Heirloom tomatoes have extraordinary flavour (especially this time of year). Some of them can appear quite disfigured and may not be what you're accustomed to but don't be wary. I was looking for heirloom tomatoes but I was surprised that the market didn't have them today (and they usually do, go figure). If you can't find them either or don't want to use them for whatever reason, you can use any other kind of tomato you like. All tomatoes taste their absolute best this time of year anyway.
This is one of those recipe posts that I'm not going to bother with ingredient amounts because how much of what you'll need will depend entirely on what kind of mozzarella and tomatoes you use and what concept you have for your salad. I'll be happy to show what I did for this technique though.
Fresh burrata cheese
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Aged Balsamic Vinegar (optional)
I used the burrata as the base of my salad so let's start there. This is a great way for those of you who've never seen or tried burrata to familiarize yourself with it. Burrata is usually sold as parcels about the size of a fist. They are usually sold in a brine, sealed in a plastic bag and immersed in cold water. It's so fresh and delicate that conditions have to be just right.
Remove the burrata from the package and let the excess brine drain off. Gently dab with paper towel to dry and place in the middle of a large bowl.
This is what burrata looks like when you open it. The inside is full of a creamy, lusciously rich and spreadable mozzarella.
Cut both lengthwise and widthwise into an X pattern.
Drizzle with about a tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and let it flow and fall into the natural nooks and crannies of the burrata.
Add some chopped or sliced tomatoes. Caprese salad is traditionally conceived to represent the colours of the Italian flag (red, white and green). So red tomatoes are usually used. I used some red, orange and yellow tomatoes. Do whatever you like and be creative. Season with coarse sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.
This next step is optional and some purists avoid it, but I think it really elevates the dish. That is to add a drizzle of good quality, aged balsamic vinegar. Apply similarly to how you drizzled the olive oil.
Next step is to add the fresh basil. You an leave them whole, chop them or tear them. Here I just gently tore them with my fingers. Use as much or as little as you like.
Then drizzle with just a little more olive oil before serving.
That's one very tasty and visually appealing version of Insalata Caprese con Burrata. I'm going to be honest with you, crowded plates rarely make impressive looking dishes from a marketing perspective. So for pretty's sake I photographed the salad like this. You had better believe that before I ate it I added the rest of my chopped tomatoes and fresh basil with a little more dressing and seasoning and chowed down. This salad was so good! Ridiculously simple as well. I admit that although these are few ingredients some of them can be quite pricey. This was something that I treated myself to. You can always make a version that fits your budget by using commercial mozzarella and/or omitting the balsamic vinegar. You can find some cheaper, lower grade balsamic vinegars but I don't think they're good for anything. If you can't get the good stuff then you're better off without it. This salad is still delicious and has enough complexity without the balsamic addition. I just think it adds a wonderful touch.
I hope this has inspired you to make a Caprese salad of your own. They're so tasty and very appropriate for this time of year. If you are hosting a barbecue or dinner event this summer this would very an impressive and enjoyable first course.
There is a lot more summery goodness in store for the blog. Harvest season is coming up shortly which is pretty much the best time of year for any foodie. "Big tings a gwan", my friends.