Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ode to my Italian Heritage: Mozzarella and Tomatoes

I was talking to my co-worker Maggie the other week and the topic of mozzarella came up (probably because I was holding a tub of it in my hands) and we both agreed that a shrine to this wondrous lump of white creamy goodness should be erected! Mozzarella could be one of the greatest things the Italians ever brought to this great world. I know, I know, Italian food is full of all sorts of amazing dishes: pizza, lasagna, chicken parmigiana ...but think about it, most of these dishes revolve around one amazing ingredient: Mozzarella! (I say mooz-a-rel, but my roommate says us American Italians just take the end vowel off of everything, which he is right about. Just ask me to say calamari.)

My mom used to make all sorts of homemade Italian dishes when we were kids, but she would always buy the dry, low moisture Polly-O mozzarella that came in the plastic packaging and had no water surrounding it. One word for this type of mozzarella: insult! Come on mom, you know better than that! Fresh mozzarella is amazing. The water surrounding the mozzarella leaves in its natural form and it's the way the Italians meant for it to be. I know the stuff is expensive, but it's worth it. Plus, St. Mark's Market (between 2nd and 3rd on St Mark's, I live at this store) actually has a decent deal on fresh mozzarella... you can get a nice size ball for around $5.00. (Whole Foods sells really nice Mozzarella made fresh and brought to the store daily from Brooklyn, but theirs will cost you more like $10 for a nice size ball).

While there are many things you can do with fresh mozzarella, my favorite thing is a Caprese Salad. While the traditional salad is usually just Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Basil, I have created a couple of variations I think you might like. Try any of these combinations, or make your own and let me know how it goes. I eat this stuff for lunch 2-3 times a week and I love how it fills me up without making me feel gross. (Warning: Your co-workers will give you a strange look when you walk out of the office kitchen with this awesome dish, mostly because they are jealous.)

If you want to learn more about this wonder cheese, check out this wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mozzarella
Also, did you know there is a Mozzarella Bar in NYC? Actually, they are all over the world. Mozzarella and wine, what more do you need?
Obika Mozzarella Bar
590 Madison Ave At 57th St, New York 10022

Fresh Mozzarella and Tomatoes with (insert here)

Basic Ingredients:
1 Ball Fresh Mozzarella
2 Ripe Tomatoes (try different varieties, Heirloom in the end of summer are great)
Fresh Basil Leaves (dried flakes can work too, but fresh is always better)
Olive Oil to Taste
Balsamic Vinegar (or Balsamic Glaze)to Taste
Salt and Pepper

Other Optional Ingredients:
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Hearts of Palm
Roasted Red Peppers
Artichoke Hearts
Grilled Chicken
Truffle Oil (White or Black, it's all great)

Slice Mozzarella into nice size pieces (about 1/4-1/2 inch thick). Slice tomatoes and arrange in an alternating pattern on a plate with the mozzarella and the basil. If adding optional ingredients, you can add these in between the slices of mozzarella and tomatoes or put them in the center tossed together, creating what we italians call an "Antipasto" platter(literally meaning "before the meal" in Italian) although this can definitely be eaten as a meal. And you wonder why I am "Big" D? LOL.

Once you have arranged your ingredients on the plate, drizzle olive oil and balsamic over the top. (The "Blaze" Balsamic Glaze from the Brussels Sprouts recipe is perfect on this as well. If you don't want to buy balsamic glaze, you can make it very easily by boiling down a cup or two of balsamic vinegar over low heat in a saucepan until it becomes very thick. Try it with steak or other types of meats or vegetables. It's great.) Season with salt and pepper to taste and Enjoy! And don't be afraid to try different items on this including seasoned salts, special pepper, flavored oils, etc. Believe me, you will be pleasantly surprised by your creation!


Anonymous said...

Looks good!

Something I can make.

Michelle R said...

I made a modified Caprese for an appetizer at my last party (which you missed!). I made the pieces of tomato and mozzarella bite sized and stuck toothpicks through each pair; it was adorable and a big hit. You should have been there!