As I’m a bit mental about Italian food, I just had to share my favourite salad recipe with you. Yip, I’m awesome like that. The trick with all good cooking is the quality of your ingredients. I know you’ve probably heard it a million times, but it’s that important.
Fresh, unblemished, super ripe tomatoes of varying shapes, sizes & colours; perfect, fresh basil leaves; quiveringly fresh buffalo mozzarella (or a great quality cow’s milk mozzarella will do)… the Holy Trinity of the Caprese. I don’t need to tell you about how fabulous your extra virgin olive oil needs to be, you guys have totally got that covered, right? Good-oh.
It may not be all that traditional, but I like to use a rustic home-made basil pesto to toss the mozzarella in just before I serve it. I finish the salad off with some finely shaved zest of unwaxed, unblemished lemons, which takes the flavours into another dimension. If you’re a traditionalist, forget I said that, and just go with the naked mozzarella.
This is how it goes: (serves 4)
4 large ripe tomatoes (heirloom; beefsteak; plum; Roma; black; green)
1 punnet yellow cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 punnet mini Roma tomatoes, sliced in half
6-7 large sprigs of sweet basil, unblemished & washed (thick stems removed)
3-4 balls of buffalo mozzarella or boccincini, drained just before serving
Sea salt flakes (Maldon is all I use)
Freshly crushed black pepper (tellicherry pepper is the black gold of pepper)
Optional: chunky basil pesto, freshly grated lemon zest & a good quality balsamic vinegar reduction
Slice up the large tomatoes into thin slices with a very sharp knife. Arrange these without too much care or precision on your serving platter. Followed by the halved cherry & mini tomatoes, and season with salt flakes & black pepper.
Scatter the basil leaves over the tomatoes. Drain the mozzarella balls, and tear into bit-size chunks with your hands – NEVER cut up mozzarella with a knife, it kills the beautiful lacy texture. You can toss the mozzarella chunks with the basil pesto at this point, or just scatter them over the basil leaves.
Top off with a good drizzle of that beautiful extra virgin olive oil we spoke about, and some more salt flakes & black pepper.
Get out your aquaplane gadget if you have one, and finely grate some of that gorgeous lemon peel over the salad. None of the white pith should be included. Please make sure your lemons are at room temperature, as all those lovely oils where the flavour sits in the skin will be in their liquid state, rather than in a solid state if they’re refrigerated. Bigger, more lemony flavour release.
If you need to make the salad pop for a dinner party or similar, put the balsamic reduction into a squeeze bottle with a very narrow nozzle. Practise big, bold zigzags on a dinner plate, so that you feel confident about the motions you’re about to make on your prepared salad. You can gauge the width of the zig-zag by either pressing softer or harder on the bottle. Ensure your arm action is quick, so that you get lots of thin zigzags, instead of fewer, thicker ones. This gives the salad a very subtle sweet, acidic dressing, as opposed to an over-powering flavour of balsamic vinegar, which will totally kill the delicate, fresh flavours of the cheese & the tomatoes.