It was 1992 and I made my maiden trip to Naples, Italy to visit my husband when I stumbled on “Insalata Caprese.” What – this is a salad? Who knew there could be variations.
As a child, I was used to salads consisting of that pale green and yellowish stuff called iceberg with maybe some carrots, radishes, a few tomatoes and trans fat laden bottled dressing. I had no idea something so fresh and yet so simple could be so good. That first bite of mozzarella di bufala was almost an outer body experience. It was like nothing I had ever tasted and just seemed to smoothly run down my throat. The contrast of the sweet, fresh, tomatoes that the Campania region is famous for along with sprigs of fresh basil, olive oil and the perfect amount of salt was what has kept me on the quest for more.
Fast forward to 2007 when I found myself moving to Naples and ecstatic at the prospect of tasting all the wonderful food (and wine 🙂 ) Italy has to offer.
Of course, I returned to the quest for more caprese and found that there are even slight variations on this salad…..some come with oregano instead of basil, some with a squeeze of fresh lemon, some chunk the tomatoes and mozzarella, and some slice them. The key ingredients – tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala – remain the same.
So, after living here for almost two years, I not only have my favorite way of making “Insalata Caprese,” I can actually tell the difference between good mozzarella di bufala and bad. Now, before I get the Italians mad at me, let me clarify. By bad, I don’t actually mean it is indigestible, I mean, it is not my preference. Because what I’ve also learned from living here is that many people have different opinions about what makes good mozzarella di bufala. Some prefer it slightly firm, some think salt destroys it, some only buy it from the town they live in or even more specific, from the same vendor they’ve been buying it from for years (because so-and-so’s brother owns the caseficio).
I can’t say I’m much different because I have tried almost all the shops that sell it in my town and can even tell who makes it slightly firm, with little or no salt, etc. Now, many Italians would probably think I’m crazy (although admire me for sticking to my personal quest for the best) but I don’t buy my mozzarella from any of the shops in my town. Instead, I drive to a nearby town and buy mine from a local Caseficio which, in my opinion, produces the most perfectly balanced, melt-in-your-mouth, mozzarella di bufala I have ever tasted. Add the freshest tomatoes, ripped (not cut) basil, enough salt to compensate for the exquisitely sweet tomatoes, top quality extra virgin olive oil and that, my friend, is what the love of food is all about! My quest has come to a very happy end!
Recipe: Insalata Caprese