Insalata caprese (Caprese salad)

 

Italian cuisine has very few “secrets”. The reason for which it is loved worldwide is in fact plain for all to see: using few ingredients, fresh, local and in season. That’s all there is to most Italian delicacies, and nowhere it is as evident as in insalata caprese (literally: ‘salad as they do it in Capri’), a classic summer dish that requires no preparation at all.

The catch is, of course, to get hold of the right ingredients:

1 large mozzarella cheese made with buffalo milk

4 ripe Fiascone tomatoes

A few basil leaves

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Let’s go through each item in the list:

Mozzarella di bufala is a regional product of Campania, the region of Napoli. It has a post all of its own on this website, but the gist of it is that you have to buy it from a specialized deli that has the cheese flown in from Italy on a daily basis. Anything else won’t give you the right flavor, so if you can’t find real buffalo milk mozzarella you are advised to go for imported fior di latte, the industrial equivalent made with cow milk. It isn’t as tasty, but it is considered an acceptable substitute even by most Italians. The Fiascone variety of tomatoes is large and sweet, pretty common in southern Italy. They are used as a counter-note to the slightly sour flavor of mozzarella, so don’t bother with greenish tomatoes or anything bland. Whatever kind of tomato you use should taste almost as strong as concentrated sauce. For the sake of God, do not ever place a tomato in the refrigerator or the temperature drop will destroy its delicate chemical balance giving it its distinctive flavor. Talking about basil, you can easily choose it in the same way Italian cooks do. If you can’t smell it from five meters away (about 15 feet), it is not what you want. Oil and salt should pose no problem. That’s all there is to a real insalata caprese. No secret at all – except being true to its traditional origins.