Ode to the Insalata Caprese

Twas on the isle of Capri that I found her, beneath the shade of an old walnut tree—Jimmy Kennedy from Isle of Capri,1934

Nothing embodies summer for the tummer (sorry I was in a lyricist frame of mind) like the Caprese Salad.

My first sign of summer in eastern Kentucky was not the oppressive heat, or the air that felt like you were wearing a wet dog, or the flowers blooming in everyone’s small gardens, or the neat rows of tobacco in the field…it was the first bite of the “garden tomato”. Nothing tastes as good as the tomatoes grown in an eastern Kentucky garden.

Now I know some may take issue with this last statement, especially the good folks I have met here in my new home in southeastern Indiana, for the tomatoes are very tasty here also. And those who grow tomatoes in southern Italy, but c’mon will any of them actually read this blog?

In the hills and hollers of eastern Kentucky, the first tomatoes were usually eaten on a bologna sandwich, or just on a plate with salt and pepper, or as my dad would just make a tomato sandwich with mayo. But for me, it’s the celebration of the first locally grown tomatoes in a Caprese Salad.

This wonderful, simple salad is believed to have originated on the beautiful island of Capri, off the Amalfi coast in southern Italy. It is probably the closest most of us will ever get to this heavenly place and as far as the taste buds are concerned that is ok.

The salad is traditionally made with only five ingredients…tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, salt, and olive oil. Thankfully it can still be called a Caprese salad with variations of ingredients. I usually add olives, sometimes cucumbers and onions. I usually top it with red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar mixed with the olive oil and add pepper. I hope the Italian chefs don’t take issue with my liberties for it still has the red, green, and white colors of the Italian flag (well, other than the balsamic and kalamata olives and occasionally the purple onions and yellow tomatoes I will use).

I know this last salad is pushing the Italian envelope here with the hard boiled egg, so if you see “insalata caprese con uovo sodo” on the menu when you are in Capri, just remember where you saw it first.