Nope, not *those* three little words, although I do love you… I’m thinking about (in alphabetical order) basil / mozzarella / tomatoes. This culinary Tinkers to Evers to Chance combo rocks! And, since food tastes even better (I think) with a story behind it, here are two complementary dishes to fill that bill.
Today’s first option (since raw comes before cooked) is the Caprese salad. This ridiculously simple summer delight is nothing more than alternating bits or chunks or slices of tomato and fresh mozzarella cheese (from buffalo milk if possible, otherwise cow's milk is just fine), with basil either layered as whole leaves between the other ingredients, or torn, chopped or chiffonaded and sprinkled over the top of the other two.
The whole mess is then lightly drizzled with olive oil and voila!, an entire summer lunch or a nice dinner appetizer. Although I never saw a buffalo or even a cow on Capri when I was there, I suppose its possible that there were some there once… this salad is supposed to have originated on that tiny island.
Today’s cooked option has a somewhat more romantic and possibly better-documented history. According to pizzarecipe.com, “Modern pizza history was made in 1889 when Queen Margherita Teresa Giovanni, the consort of Umberto I, visited Naples with her king. Don Raffaele Esposito, who owned Pietro Il Pizzaiolo, was asked to prepare a special dish in honour of the Queen’s visit. Esposito consulted his wife who was the real pizza expert and together they developed a pizza featuring tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil. He named it the Margherita Pizza, after the city’s guest of honor.”
Last month I had lunch at Cippolina in Austin. My friend ordered their Margherita pizza and was kind enough to let me have a slice. Must’ve been my puppy dog eyes . More recently I had dinner at Mare in Boston and enjoyed their Caprese salad. Both dishes were comprised of the same three basic ingredients, the difference being the addition on the one hand of fire (oh and pizza crust, but that’s a whole separate food group, not an ingredient, right?).At Mare their Caprese salad is served as generous chunks of almost purple skinned heirloom tomatoes (they never answered my query about the actual variety) pin-wheeled with equally large slabs of fresh mozzarella, covered with a nice handful of basil and a smidge of balsamic vinaigrette. Oh yum.
At Cippolina they make their own mozzarella, and you can smell the pizza as you pull in to the parking lot. The pizza crust is thin, crisp, and the cheese is divine. Its a little saltier than some mozzarella I’ve had, and this adds nicely to the overall flavor of the pizza. I recommend it highly!
So now I’m hungry. There are fresh tomatoes on the kitchen counter begging for basil and I gotta go get some out of the garden. Enjoy the bounty in your part of the world, and buon appetito!