March 29, 2008

Insalata caprese


Salads are good for you, so you can eat as much salad as you want. Because of that, I won’t give precise quantities in my recipes for salads. The important thing when preparing a good salad is how you mix textures, colors and flavors. So, I’ll usually just put a list of ingredients, sometimes the proportions, but you are free to prepare as much or as little as you want to. Salads can serve as an antipasto, as a contorno or side-dish, or even as a main course or piatto unico.

In America, one of the most important things about the flavors on a salad is the dressing. However I’d be misleading if I put Italian dressings in my recipes, because we don’t have any. Olive oil and regular vinegar (not even balsamic which in Italy is a specialty reserved only for special occasions) is all that you get: right on the table and everybody adds them to their own salad when served.

In fact, salads in Italy are very simple and I must say Italian cuisine is not known for its salads. I would say the only exception is the lovely insalata caprese (there are other traditional salads, like panzanella, but insalata caprese has conquered the world), thus I’ll start giving salad ideas with this staple from Capri, an island in Campania.

Campania is the region where Naples, Capri and Pompeii are. And in Campania you enjoy nearly perfect weather. But Campania is the land of Mount Vesuvius too. However when a volcano explodes it brings out the melted soil from inside the Earth, a soil which is full of minerals and that will produce a land plenty of fertility. After a volcano explodes and you see all the destruction it provokes you wouldn’t say that’s true; however, wait a few years – maybe not that few – and you’ll have some of the most fertile soil anywhere. The Romans didn’t know that, but they knew that the bay of Naples was incredibly fertile and they cultivated the land growing everything but tomatoes. You probably know that tomatoes were brought to Europe from the Americas after Columbus’ travels, so the Romans didn’t have the good fortune to taste this perfect produce. Only centuries later, long after Vesuvius covered the city of Pompeii, Campania become the perfect land for growing the most succulent, tasteful and aromatic tomatoes you can find.

Capri is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, a beautiful island not too far from Naples. In Capri you can sense all the Mediterranean nature and landscape, with spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea and its incredible color. I understand why the Roman emperor Tiberius used to live there, and probably he would have enjoyed his stay even more if they had had tomatoes there at that time.

Insalata caprese is the most perfect match between simple ingredients: ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fruity olive oil and aromatic basil. It couldn’t be better. I know I’m getting a bit passionate about this, but when you have an insalata caprese you’re enjoying the best that Italian land offers you. The ingredients are simple, it’s true, but that’s why you have to use the best here. The best tomatoes, ripe and colorful, plenty of fragrance and savor. The best olive oil, where you can taste the fruitiness of the olives. The best basil, in order to capture all the aroma of the Mediterranean shore. And the best mozzarella, made fresh and using bufala milk, so that it melts in your mouth absorbing the juices of the tomatoes, mixed with the olive oil and basil. So much simplicity and yet so much perfection. Add the view of the sea from a terrace in Capri and you’ll experience paradise on Earth.

Ingredients
Ripe tomatoes
Fresh mozzarella
Basil

Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Tip

As always, one of the most important things about food is the quality of the ingredients. Try to get your vegetables at a local farmers market and try to use seasonal produce when they are in season. In doing so, you’ll get all the flavor and attributes of perfect produce.

Posted by Daziano at 7:16 PM |  
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