Summer in Sydney is an interesting animal. Yes, we have our hurricane-speed winds, driving rain that feels like death itself is attempting to come up under your umbrella and work itself down your back and occasional sub-zero nights where you feel as if you’re going to wake up with frostbite on your nose. Really though, we have such mild winters – last week as I was driving to my local shops to get a coffee I nearly ran up the back of the car in front of me as I desperately peeled off my layers. IT WAS 27 DEGREES!!! In August. Then today, I was rudely awakened by the sun streaming in through the blinds with nary a cloud to hinder it. Skip to lunch time however and it was overcast and dreary – but the baby cheesus be damned, this morning had me hankering for some summer action. I was CRAVING summer but in food form. For me, summer is all about fresh meals, organic produce, beautiful herbs, and meals you can throw together without having to turn on an appliance!
This is my pinnacle of summer eating – a lactose-free version of Insalata Caprese. Don’t fret though – I haven’t lost my mind. I am not attempting to teach you how to make the worlds easiest salad. I just thought I’d share a few pointers on how to achieve optimal deliciousness.
STEP 1 – INGREDIENTS
A typical Insalata Caprese is basically fresh sliced tomato, basil leaves, and sliced buffalo mozzarella – but you already knew that!
Due to a slightly inconvenient lactose intolerance (only mild), I try to steer clear of cow’s milk as much as possible. Here I used Willowbrae Chevre in place of the mozzarella – its just a soft goats curd, but is deliciously creamy with a tangy finish. I always use fresh vine or truss tomatoes. Use whatever is in season, and organic where possible – you really notice the flavour difference! For optimum flavour, always keep your tomatoes at room temperature. And of course fresh basil leaves. Again, organic is best, but when I hit the local farmers markets I always support local growers. Use the leaves depending on how strong you like your basil – the smaller “baby” leaves will be sweeter and more mild compared to the more bitter and stronger outer leaves. Traditionally an Insalata Caprese is finished with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, and depending on personal tastes perhaps some balsamic vinegar or cracked pepper. I like to use a small drizzle of olive oil, a good helping of fresh cracked pepper, and a drizzle of balsamic glaze – its just a reduction of balsamic vinegar with some sugar to caramelise and thicken the glaze. I generally try to avoid adding extra salt to meals – here I find the cheese adds that element to the salad, but again, its all down to personal taste.
STEP 2 – ASSEMBLE
EASIEST PREPARATION EVER – Slice tomatoes, assemble on plate. Grab basil leaves – TEAR (not cut/slice/snip with scissors) over tomatoes. Scoop cheese onto tomatoes and bail – i got all fancy and made little quenelles, but little dollops of cheese look just as good. Drizzle with desired amount of olive oil/balsamic vinegar/balsamic glaze/cracked pepper/salt. Spend 20 minutes attempting to take a good shot with your iphone camera. ENJOY!