Insalata Caprese is almost too simple to blog about, but I do have some interesting tips to provide. At the risk of writing the same thing over and over, this dish is a classic example of Italian cuisine that relies completely on the quality of the ingredients. Use the best flavorful ripe tomatoes you can find, fresh fragrant basil, the best extra virgin olive oil you can afford, and last but not least the best mozzarella you can afford (and find!), preferably buffalo mozzarella.
Real fresh buffalo mozzarella is very hard to find outside of Campania, the region around Naples in Italy where it originates. I’ve had it a few times when I was visiting the region. Because of the freshness it is outstanding and has a completely different texture from the same mozzarella after a day in the refrigerator. When driving around in Campania, there are mozzarella producers all over the place where you can buy real fresh mozzarella for only 10 euros ($13 or so, depending on what the exchange rate is doing…) per kilo (2.2 lbs). We tried it and it was heavenly. The texture is less soft without being chewy and there are holes in the mozzarella. We didn’t finish everything and saved the remaining mozzarella in the refrigerator of our RV (camper van). The next day, the mozzarella was still good, but nothing like on the first, and resembled strongly imported buffalo mozzarella available in the Netherlands.
There is a lot of very bad mozzarella available, which hardly has any taste and is chewy. Even such bad mozzarella benefits from the trick I provide in this recipe.
Before we go to the recipe, let’s talk briefly about why this is called a Caprese salad. Insalata Caprese is a dish from Naples, that has been named after the island of Capri (which is near Naples). It makes sense that this dish comes from Naples, since it is the capital city of buffalo mozzarella and also a good region for tomatoes. I visited Capri itself once and didn’t like it all. It looks nice from the sea, but once on land you only see Gucci, Prada, Hugo Boss and overpriced beverages (8 euros for a glass of coke). It is way too touristy: they even sold “pizza fish & chips”… Perhaps it would have been better outside of the village, but it was too hot to do much wandering. I’m quite sure there are no buffalos anywhere on Capri.
Insalata Caprese is served as an antipasto, but it is also great as a lunch if you serve it with Italian bread.
Mozzarella di Bufala
Extra virgin olive oil
Slice the mozzarella into slices of about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch). Mozzarella is often served too cold, so you hardly taste anything. Put the slices of mozzarella on a plate, and put the plate on a bowl of hot water for a few minutes. This will soften the mozzarella and bring out the flavor. It will even work with cheap mozzarella.
Wash, dry and cut the tomatoes into slices while the mozzarella is warming up.
After a few minutes, a milky fluid will leak out of the mozzarella. It is now ready to be served.
Arrange tomato, basil, and mozzarella on a platter. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season lightly with salt.
If you like you can also add a bit of freshly ground black pepper. If you have some really good artisan balsamic (aceto balsamico tradizionale), aged at least 12 years, you may want to add a few drops of that as well. But it’s really not necessary.
This is good with a light Italian white such as Gavi or Soave. Or a Falanghina, if you’d like to stay in the same region.