The SOMM Journal

June / July 2018

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 18 of 132

{ wheying in } JUDGING FROM MY informal survey of grocery carts, Americans must eat insalata caprese during the summer months at least five nights a week. And why not? By late July, tomatoes finally start tasting like tomatoes, and no first course could be faster than this slice-and-drizzle dish. Add a bottle of Greco di Tufo or Vermentino, and a proper tomato and mozzarella salad can taste like a quick trip to the Amalfi Coast. But can we talk? This salad, simple in concept, gets disrespected in so many ways. Whether you make it at home for your own enjoyment or in a professional setting for guests, please take a moment to review these non-negotiables. These rules may not be universal, but here's what I expect from an insalata caprese: Mozzarella: Choose the freshest whole- milk, high-moisture mozzarella you can get. Mozzarella di bufala is classic, but it's better to use a fresh cow's-milk mozzarella from a local source than an imported bufala that's nearing the end of its short life. Fresh mozzarella should taste sweet and milky. It should hold together when sliced and release some whey, and the texture should be supple, not chewy. I love the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. mozzarella because, unlike most, it's cultured. Mozzarella di bufala will have more of a gamy flavor and cultured-milk tang. Before you make your salad, I advise you bring the cheese to room temperature. Res - taurant health inspectors won't like that sug- gestion, but cold mozzarella has no charm. Tomatoes: While they should be ripe, they don't have to be dead-ripe—a little firmness is a good thing. Mix colors and sizes. Scatter some halved Sungold or Sweet 100 tomatoes on top. Never refrigerate tomatoes; like the cheese, they should be at room temperature. Extra-virgin olive oil: It's unthinkable to use anything else. Some restaurant kitchens cook with extra-virgin oil cut with a cheaper oil, but insalata caprese deserves the real thing. Extra-virgin olive oil is quick - ly damaged by light and heat, so purchase it in a tin or dark bottle; store it in a cool, dark place (a wine cellar is perfect); and definitely keep it away from the stove. Basil: Fresh basil should either be whole- leaf or torn just before serving, as basil oxi - dizes almost instantly when it's chopped or sliced with a knife (you've seen that nasty blackened basil that was juli- enned well ahead of time). Mix green and purple types, if you like, but make sure the basil looks brightly colored and perky. Salt: Yes, please—the tomatoes definitely need it and the mozzarella might. Use sea salt or Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, which isn't too coarse. For a more eye-catching presentation, offer a salt collection with natural choices like fleur de sel, Himalayan pink salt, or Hawaiian black salt, but no flavored salts! Vinegar: Nix. Nada. Don't even think about using red wine vinegar or especially balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle a few drops of wine vinegar on the tomatoes, if you must, but keep it off of the mozzarella. Wine: You can serve your salad with ei - ther white or rosé, but it should preferably be dry, lean, and crisp with no apparent oak. Falanghina or Fiano di Avellino are appealing choices from Campania, insalata caprese's home base. PHOTO COURTESY OF ELECTROGRAPHY VIA ADOBE STOCK Getting Simple Right THE BASICS FOR MAKING A GOOD INSALATA CAPRESE by Janet Fletcher 18 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } JUNE/JULY 2018

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The SOMM Journal - June / July 2018