The idyllic Island of Capri (KAH-pree), is situated in the Bay of Naples on the west coast of Italy, and has been occupied dating back to the Neolithic times. It was colonized early on by the ancient Greeks. During the Roman times, Tiberius (42 BC - 37 AD), Emperor of the Roman Empire, spent the last decade of his life there and built twelve villas, making it an exclusive destination for the Empire’s elite. Over time, it has fallen in and out of various hands, but always remained a spot of easy living and natural, ravishing, beauty.
The Twentieth Century
The isolated island became a magnet for artists, writers, and other creative types. Somerset Maugham fashioned his novel “The Lotus Eaters” there, and it has been frequented by European and American film stars, renting seaside villas for months at a time. (Clark Gable, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, Jackie Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Giorgio Armani, Ernest Hemingway, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lopez, Tom Cruise….)
Its Most Famous Gift to Culinaria
The first origin story for Insalata Caprese (Caprese Salad) dates back to post-World War I Italy. A patriotic mason wanted to make a dish that was a true tribute to Italy and that visually incorporated the tricolor flag into the presentation. The first printed mention of the Caprese salad was on a menu at the Hotel Quisisana.
Although it was positively received, the salad remained primarily in Italy. Until King Farouk, the penultimate King of Egypt and the Sudan, asked his chef for a light afternoon snack and was served a Caprese sandwich. Soon, it spread globally as delight to those “in the know”.
The 1960’s and Forward
It reached the United States and became ubiquitous on fine Italian menus throughout the 1970’s. It was popularized in national publications and was favored for its simplicity and freshness. By the 1980’s it was beginning to feel a bit “old fashioned” and slowly disappeared from the mainstream culinary landscape. In the 2000’s there was a gentle reemergence, but nothing like it’s heyday. This surprises me, as it is perfect for the summer months! It can be served in abundance on a platter for a buffet or to pass at a table, or as we do here, individually plated.
Time: 20 minutes, Serves: 4
4 beautiful, ripe tomatoes of any variety
1 lb of good mozzarella, Buffalo if available
½ cup of fresh pesto
Best quality extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
Good salt and freshly cracked black peppercorns
Fresh basil to garnish
How to make it
Take each tomato, slice it horizontally about ¼ inch or so thick,, keeping slices in order and discard base and top. Slice mozzarella in similar fashion, creating enough to insert one piece between each tomato slice.
Beginning with the bottom slice, place it on a plate and spread a bit of pesto on top, layer with a mozzarella slice, and repeat with the next tomato slice until each is reassembled. Repeat on each plate.
Drizzle each “tower” with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, top with a leaf or more of whole basil.