Monday, June 24, 2013

Caprese Salad

Caprese Salad
My favorite dish in Italy is the Insalata Caprese. It consists of sliced tomato and mozzarella in olive oil and balsamic vinegar topped with a couple basil leaves. It is a common dish and can be ordered in most restaurants. I enjoy it because it is a light, healthy snack.

The tomatoes served in all the Italian dishes are fresh. The first record of tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) in Italy dates back to October 31, 1548. The Medici family was very powerful and the new world had many plant varieties unknown to Europe. Having these new crops in their possession symbolized the Medici family’s power. The tomato’s first written appearance was when the house steward of Cosimo de’Medici, the grand duke of Tuscany, wrote a letter informing the Medici’s private secretary that the basket of tomatoes sent from the grand duke’s Florentine estate had arrived safely. The early use of the tomato in Europe was as an ornamental garden plant because it was believed that the tomato was poisonous. The tomato belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae) which does contain poisonous plants so it made sense to assume the tomato was also poisonous. I was surprised when I learned that they assumed tomatoes were not edible. Luckily for us, they discovered the tomato is edible and integrated it into their diet.
Making ricotta cheese

Mozzarella is also produced in Italy; it is made by heating milk with a little citric acid. After removing the heat and setting, the curds will coagulate, separating from the whey. Then the curds are scooped out. After heating the remaining mixture and draining more of the whey, you knead the cheese and add some salt until it is dough like. Finally you form it into a ball shape and it is ready to eat. All the mozzarella here is shaped into a ball which I think is fun.

While at the second agriturismo, we watched the owners make ricotta. It's a very similar process to mozzarella except that they used goat’s milk and added fresh milk after removing the curds to add protein. The agriturismo doesn't waste anything so the leftover milk, after the cheese is removed, is fed to young cows. I like the fact that nothing is wasted. Also, it was fun to watch them make the cheese because we ate it at dinner that night.

Grinding stone
Where the mats are stacked and pressed

Balsamic vinegar and olive oil are set on the table for you to add yourself. We traveled to olive oil factories and have seen the machines that grind the freshly picked olives and the mats where the paste is laid and pressed. My favorite olive oil processing place is in the underground caves of Orvieto. This city is built on a hill where space is the most valuable resource. To conserve the land they did have, the Etruscans dug out artificial caves. I think this is very inventive; if you don’t have room, go underground. For olive processing, their mills were driven by a donkey tethered to the top stone. After crushing, the paste was spread on mats and pressed, just like it is nowadays. The caves also served as good storage for the oil since it offered a constant temperature. When served Caprese salad, you must add your own olive oil and vinegar which I enjoy because it feels like I am part of the process.

Caprese salad is delicious, nutritious, and very Italian! It is a great, refreshing snack and I can't wait to make it when I get home.

"The Tomato Had To Go Abroad To Make Good." Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, n.d. Web. 23 June 2013.

Toth, Mary J. "Easy Mozzarella Recipe." Make Mozzarella Cheese at Home. Hoegger Goat Supply, n.d. Web. 23 June 2013

Shannon Murray

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