Sunday, October 28, 2012

Insalata Caprese: The Enduring Style of Italian Cuisine

INSALATA CAPRESE: THE ENDURING STYLE OF ITALIAN CUISINE -- No one can quite say when or where the most famously simple of all salads -- the insalata caprese -- first appeared on the scene, or the exact origin of when it was named after that beautiful sun-soaked isle of Capri, part of very historic Campania region. But one thing we do know is that it is absolutely one of the most enduring of all Italian antipasti and so evocative of those heady days of fun, vino and romance along the Mediterranean coast.  (Speaking of fabulous Italian things, be sure to check out the recent post Studio of Style did on Campari.)  Of course, the famed tricolor look of the dish which, like the equally famed margherita pizza of Napoli, depict the colors of the Italian flag. But let's dig a little bit deeper into history, okay? (We know how you regular readers of Studio of Style just love a little bit more of everything, right?)  First of all, so much of the world associates Italian cuisine with that wonderful deep red tomato sauce found on many dishes -- but wait! The word "pomodoro" from the words "pomo d'oro" or "golden apple" doesn't quite match up with the color red, now does it? That's because the first tomatoes brought to Europe from the New World (i.e. The Americas) were actually more likely to have been yellow than red! More on that in a moment.  But some say that "pomo d'oro" might also be a mistranslation of the phrase "pomo di moro" or "fruit of the Moors" who had introduced so many exotic foods to Italy.  You see, it was Italian physician and botanist Pietro Andrea Mattioli who wrote in 1544 that a new type of eggplant had been brought to Italy which was blood red or golden in color that could be eaten like an eggplant -- and 10 years later Mattioli used the words "pomo d'oro" in print.  The yellow variety of the tomato definitely made landfall in Europe sometime after 1521 when Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés captured the Aztec capital of Tenochtítlan in Mexico -- though Christopher Columbus of Genoa (who was also working on behalf of the Spanish monarchy) might very well have brought some back around 1493! And did you know that the earliest known Italian cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples (naturally!) around 1692 -- most likely the recipes were translated from Spanish sources. Thus, by a slight twist of history the famed marinara sauces became red and not yellow (but the name "golden apple" still stuck!). But the bigger question is: who put together that amazing combination of basil, mozzarella di bufala, tomatoes and olive oil -- crowned with a light sprinkling of salt and black pepper -- a combo that epicureans have been raving about ever since? To enjoy this antipasto to the fullest, try to find the freshest handmade mozzarella, the ripest seasonal tomatoes, absolutely fresh basil, the best extra virgin olive oil and high quality salt and freshly ground black pepper (and please, no vinegar of any kind!!).  Said perhaps one of the most famous Italians of all history, Leonardo da Vinci: "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." And how right he was...and still is! The simple yet profound pleasures found in insalata caprese transcend time itself! And in the words of so many Italians throughout the ages: Mangia bene, vivi felice!
Italian Trade Commission:
Styling and Photography by Greg Firlotte