Caprese salad is one of the most famous Italian dishes in the world; and it is as simple as tasty! This is a traditional Neapolitan dish, made with sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, and seasoned with basil or sometimes oregano, olive oil, salt and pepper.
The name of this salad comes from the island of Capri, a famous isle in the Gulf of Naples, one of the most beautiful and characteristic cities to visit in Italy. This region of Italy is particularly famous for its gastronomy: limoncello, pizza and above all fresh mozzarella, made with cow’s milk or with buffalo milk, and a few varieties of tomatoes, which are of the main ingredients of the Caprese salad.
The origins of this dish are disputed still today: as for many others tradition Italian dishes, there are many “legends” that tell the story of the creation of this salad.
The most likely theory on the creation of this dish traces back to the early twenties, when this salad became part of the menu of the renowned “Quisisana Grand Hotel” in Capri, as a tribute to the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the founder of the Italian movement of Futurism. The artist, in fact, had criticised several times the traditional Italian cuisine, describing it as too heavy and boring; in particular, Marinetti hated pasta, for he defined it “passatista di pesantezza”, which literally means “old fashioned heaviness”. Actually, the whole movement was about going off the grid and overcoming the traditions, and in Italy one of the most rooted legacy is just the one of food.
That’s why, when Marinetti was hosted in the Quisisana Grand Hotel, the chef wanted to impress him with a new, light but still patriotic dish, and he created the Caprese salad, which contains some of the most traditional Italian ingredients (olive oil, tomatoes and mozzarella) yet is fresh and elegant at the same time. Moreover, the colours of this dish hint to the ones on the Italian flag. Apparently, Marinetti enjoyed this dish and his stay on the Island so much, for he said about Capri: “The more I love this island, the more I fear the effects on my art”.
Another legend on this dish is about a mason. After World War I he became so patriotic that he wanted to enclose the colours of the Italian flag (“il tricolore”) inside a bun, to take it with him for lunch. So he sliced some of the most common ingredients, the ones that everyone has at home, according to the colours of the flag: white (mozzarella), red (tomatoes) and green (basil), and seasoned the bun with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Following Capri’s legends, the Caprese salad was even appreciated by King Farouk of Egypt, during his trip in 1951 in the isle of Capri. Apparently, the king asked for a fast lunch to stall his hunger, and he was served a Caprese salad inside a bun. The legend says that he was totally enchanted by the rich taste of this dish.
Let’s talk for a moment about the ingredients of this salad. At the beginning, the only mozzarella used was the one made with cow’s milk, traditionally called “fior di latte” in Italy; but during the ‘80s people started using the buffalo milk mozzarella, tastier and juicier, one of the most famous products of southern Italy. In the majority of the restaurants today, only the buffalo milk mozzarella version (“Mozzarella di Bufala”) is served, but sometimes you can find the traditional dish too.
You might think that the protagonist of this dish is the Mozzarella, but actullay this is not true: tomatoes are as important as mozzarella in the Caprese salad! In southern Italy there are more than 20 different tomato varieties, so it’s very important to choose the perfect one for the Caprese salad! The “perfect tomato” must be ripe, but still firm, for its consistency has to compete with the one of the mozzarella. The best type to use is the “cuore di bue” (heirloom tomatoes), for they are meatier and have fewer seeds; the taste is a little spicy and sweet, and it combines perfectly with the other ingredients.
The oil has to be strictly olive oil with a light fruity whiff. The basil leaves must be fresh and hand ripped (do not cut it with a knife, or it will become black and with a metallic taste).
Now you’re ready to make a truly Italian Caprese salad!