Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Insalata Caprese

It is such an easy classic to make; it amazes me how bad this dish can be when I eat it in restaurants. I was first introduced to this dish by my friend Max when I was about 12 years old. I went on vacation to Italy with him and my Uncle in 1986. As a fellow vegetarian at the time, he introduced me to what he described as the “greatest salad in the world” in his flamboyant Italian accent. Meanwhile my uncle was chomping down on some unsightly piece of cow, which I am sure I would love now.

Anyway, Max took me to a market in Milan where we bought a heap of fresh produce, in particular some Buffalo mozzarella, and some huge tomatoes. The resulting salad with basil from a window box with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper won me over. Looking back, it really was the fresh ingredients that did it justice. All too often, I have ordered this dish in a pizza joint, only to find very firm and tasteless cheese, with unripe tomatoes, and a sprinkle of white pepper and salt and a drizzle of vegetable oil. If done well, this is truly a wonderful dish. Make it at home with the very best ingredients you can find, and avoid the imitations which end up like plastic airplane food. Avoid the dish in winter, grow your own tomatoes and basil, and pick them 5 minutes before you eat. You will be rewarded with a dish which you can absorb over and over again.

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