I used to travel a lot to Munich on business. After the thrill of the first schweinhaxen wore off (a shank of pork baked to a crisp skin, served on a board with a knife stuck in it) I was soon searching for the kind of California-Mediterranean food that I love. Caprese salad was my savior: tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, balsamic vinegar and oil, hopefully served with crusty bread.
I found myself making this salad last weekend, using heirloom tomatoes from Paul’s Patch in Sonoma, Italian buffalo mozzarella from Sonoma Market, and home-grown basil. While I was at the market I saw fresh cranberry beans, so I added them for protein and general deliciousness. It made a perfect lunch with frozen pita bread that I had made last week, thawed, and then warmed in a toaster.
This is a simple salad, so the quality of all the ingredients comes through strongly. You need the best of everything to make it really work. This is why I use buffalo mozzarella at 4 times the price of local mozzarella, and only make it when I can get ripe heirloom tomatoes.
Serves 2 with leftover beans.
2-4 heirloom tomatoes, depending on their size. I like to get different colors.
4 oz buffalo mozzarella
Your best aged balsamic vinegar. It should be sweet and syrupy.
Your best olive oil
Core and slice the tomatoes and slice the mozzarella. Pull the basil leaves off the stems. Assemble the salad by laying down a slice of tomato, a slice of mozzarella and one or two basil leaves. Repeat this pattern until you run out of ingredients. I like to curl the salad around a circular plate. Grind salt and pepper generously over the salad. With your thumb over the mouths of the bottles, sprinkle with balsamic then oil.
About a pound of fresh cranberry beans
1 whole peeled shallot
1 peeled carrot
1 stick celery
Flat leaf parsley
Shell the beans and boil them in well-salted water with the vegetables for about 20 minutes, until they are not mealy and the skins are not tough. However, they should not cook so much that they rupture. Drain, discard the vegetables, dry the beans in a dishcloth, and toss with with oil, fleur de sel and chopped parsley. Ladle the beans into the middle of the salad.