The South of France holds a very special place in my heart. After having spent a year there for school, I ached to return but hadn’t had the opportunity until a little over a year ago. It had been about 17 years; would the treasure I hold so dear be the same? Would it capture me as much as an adult as it had in my youth? My return not only confirmed my longing but made me fall in love all over again.
But, it was our very first interaction that made me want to stay there forever, and it involved a land-mark restaurant, a salad, and our ignorance.
The scene: Carpaccio restaurant in Villefranche-sur-mer.
The characters: Us and “Monsieur”
The exchange: Us (while using ridiculous hand gestures not helpful in describing anything) “une salade tomate et bocconcini?”; Monsieur “non”.
Okay…. it used to be a staple in this area, let me just look over the menu a bit closer ah…
“Une salade tomate et mozzarella?” Monsieur “bon”.
And there you have it. A very distinct French moment that reinforced why the French are so good at food. To my slight ignorance, there wasn’t much difference between bocconcini and mozzarella, but to him, the difference was obvious and distinct. The French enjoy their food, their flavours, their combinations. They really taste their food and even subtle deviations matter. I was in love.
Needless to say the salad was one of the best I’ve ever had and I ate a version of a Caprese salad every day for 7 days.
So, now that the weather is getting much warmer and tomatoes are so in season, I can’t help but think of a caprese salad and France and warmth. The tomatoes are bursting with flavour this time of year and the variety of types is awesome. I have played around with various combinations for this salad, but this is my favourite (and easiest) version. It is perfect for a casual summer get together and can be whipped up super quickly.
All you need is:
- Arugula salad – use as much or as little as you like. It is a great leaf to compliment the juiciness of the tomatoes so a little goes a long way
- Olive Oil – a simple sprinkle on the greens and a sprinkle at the end. A word here on olive oil – buy the best that you can afford, it does really make a difference.
- Balsamic Glaze – I like using a glaze because I enjoy the thickness of it, but balsamic vinegar works as well
- Tomatoes – and lots of them. Any colour, any size, but best when they are in season in your area
- Burrata Cheese – as “Monsieur” so pointedly showed us, the cheese does make the difference. I have never used bocconcini again, preferring to use burrata and buffalo mozzarella. Burrata is a soft Italian cheese with a very soft centre, and the buffalo mozzarella (which does come from a buffalo) is more creamier than traditional mozzarella and has a slightly firmer centre than the burrata.
- Sea salt – a good quality sea salt adds a little more depth when used sparingly (and you don’t need any at all if that is your preference).
- put arugula in bowl
- drizzle in olive oil, taste, drizzle more if you like
- drizzle some balsamic glaze. stir, taste, repeat if necessary
- sprinkle a bit of sea salt for added texture and taste
- plate arugula (a nice white plate looks fantastic)
- slice tomatoes into halves or quarters and arrange on and around the arugula on the plate
- delicately slice the sumptuous burrata and place around your salad
- drizzle some more olive oil over entire salad
- add some balsamic glaze on top and around plate
You can play around with the ingredients, even using this recipe as a base and building upon it. You’ll find textures and tastes that are your favourite.
- traditional with tomato, mozzarella and basil
- mediterranean with grilled peppers and prosciutto
- cantaloupe with jambon cru and burrata
(prosciutto is an Italian dried ham, and jambon cru is the French version, both served in very thin slices)
What is your favourite summer salad? Are you ready to enjoy your caprese salad every day? Bon appetit!