I’ve been a little frustrated recently in the recipe department, not because the ideas haven’t been flowing, but because at some level I do believe food is best at its most simple, and dipping into summer’s best produce – the first heirloom tomatoes bathed in olive oil and sea salt, for example – pretty much beats anything, anytime. But nooooo, I have to do something different. What a slap in the face for Mother Nature. Really.
Last week I came across a recipe in Sunset Magazine for a peach and mint caprese salad with a curry vinaigrette; it turned me back to caprese. I crossed it with an idea from a book I tested recipes for, which had a star of a recipe featuring tiny beets layered into a tower with rounds of goat cheese, and decided I’d try a beet and mozzarella caprese tower, a stack of big chiogga beets and fleshy mozz with mint leaves and the more traditional balsamic drizzle.
The beets turned out to be all different colors on the inside (they’d all been sold as chiogga, and the skins had been roughly the same shade), which made for a great color. I broke out the good balsamic, all .5 ounces of it, and the good olive oil. I stacked and drizzled, and ooh, was she pretty, sliced right down the center:
But when my husband and I sat down to eat, the excitement fizzled. It turns out that a good Caprese relies as much on the textural similarities between tomatoes and mozzarella (or peaches and mozzarella, I hope) as it does on their affinities for each other flavor-wise. In my first bite, the firm, sweet roasted beets clashed with the moist, soft mozzarella. I tried again: still wrong. Even the mint was too thick – slightly fuzzy, compared to basil’s silky leaves, and too assertive for the mozzarella and delicate olive oil.
I separated the beets from the cheese, ate the beets, then used the mozzarella to mop up all the salt-kissed balsamic and olive oil.
Back to the chopping block. I made a more traditional caprese with the remaining mozzarella, a good tomato, and a scoop of pesto. I realized how sad I was about the beets not working out when I compared the caprese ingredients I’d slapped onto my plate:
I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. Time for tomatoes with olive oil and salt.