Insalata Caprese, literally translated as salad of Capri, comes from the region of Campania in Italy. It’s a tasty salad of tomatoes and mozzarella, suitable as a starter and is also typically found as part of an Italian antipasto buffet. This paticular version comes with a twist, it uses a reduced balsamic vinegar, sort of like a vinegar syrup, to enhance the natural sweetness of the tomatoes.
- Soft Mozzarella (300g)
- Tomatoes (4)
- Balsamic Vinegar (1/2 cup)
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil (1/4 cup)
- Fennel Seeds
- Arugula (optional)
- As with all raw dishes, quality of the ingredients is extremely important. Make sure you get the right type of soft mozzarella, not the variety you use for pizza. The tomatoes should also be fresh and crisp. Don’t substitute any other kind of inferior vinegar or olive oil.
- This dish is best served cold, so refrigerate the tomatoes and cheese until the last minute.
- You’ll need to make the vinegar syrup ahead of time. In a small sauce pan, put a 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar, together with 1t thyme, 1t fennel seeds, 2t honey on a slow simmer. Simmer with the occasional stir until you have reduced the vinegar to a third of its original volume, about ten minutes. You’ll need good ventilation as some vinegar will boil off. While still hot, filter through a fine tea strainer to remove the herbs.
- Next cut the mozzarella into tomato sized slices each 1/3 to 1/2 an inch thick. As the cheese is soft and slightly sticky, use a sawing motion with a teethed knife that has been pre-dipped in olive oil or best results.
- The tomatoes should be sliced likewise. Cut parallel to the tomato’s ‘equator’, i.e. don’t cut from top to bottom.
- In a bowl, mix 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil with 1/2t of salt and 1/2 t of black pepper. If you have coarse steak salt, use that.
- Arrange your tomato and mozzarella slices on your plates (and perhaps some arugula if you fancy having accompanying greens) and spoon on about 1.5T of the seasoned olive oil per serving. You can use single stacks as shown in the photo, or arrange them alternately like fallen dominoes. Finish off with a light drizzle of the vinegar syrup.
- If you are not familiar with the ‘fresh’ kind of mozzarella, refer to my Cheese Page for more information.
- Some reduced vinear recipes call for low non-boiling heat for hours to prevent burning the vinegar. The secret is to use a small pan (like those for frying single eggs) such that depth of liquid is still maintained even when it is reduced.
- If you don’t have fennel seeds, you can try any kind of tuber derived spice. The thyme can also be substituted with other types of chopped herbs.
- In more traditional settings, Insalata Caprese is served with whole basil leaves, which conveniently allow the colours of the salad to match those of the Italian flag. In more contemporary restaurants, arugula is used nowadays.