Just Another Caprese Salad


I don’t know about you, but Spring can’t come too soon. Next to Fall, it’s my favorite season of the year – if for no other reason than the fact that things in our garden start to grow. Basil and tomatoes, in particular, are two things I look forward to the most. The reason? They’re 2/3 the way to a Caprese salad, and nothing says “Spring” like Caprese salad does.

On the eve of our first trip to Jose Andres’ “The Bazaar” with Peter & Jo (who have visited the restaurant 127 times I think – yeah, that sounds about right) one technique I saw him use on cherry tomatoes caught my eye. I’ve been mulling over Jo’s many Bazaar posts on her web site, looking at pictures, and thinking about what to expect.

Jose does a modern take on Caprese that I found fascinating. I can only guess from the pictures, but it appears he lightly boils cherry tomatoes in salt water until the skins loosen, then he skins them carefully and serves them with mozzarella balls (spherification, it appears) and either basil oil or pesto.

I love the idea of serving whole skinless cherry tomatoes. So I gave it a shot today. And while I was at it, I played with my molecular cooking equipment a little. I know I’ve done Caprese to death here, having just dedicated half a show to it in November – but I love it and I can still smell this photo shoot as if it happened yesterday.

I boiled several fresh cherry tomatoes that we purchased at our local farmer’s market this morning in salted water for 4 minutes. Once finished, I threw them into an ice bath. Then, using the skill of a surgeon, I skinned them with a paring knife. This was a lot of work, but they came out great. I left the stems on for contrast.

I made a basil oil by mixing fresh basil with olive oil and sea salt and letting that steep for a couple of hours. Pesto can be too much sometimes. I just wanted the clean taste of olive oil and basil. This worked perfectly.

For the “mozzarella,” I decided to do something completely different. I mixed 2 parts ricotta cheese with 1 part heavy cream and whipped it until smooth. I added salt to that and allowed it to sit in the fridge for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, I mixed 24 ounces of water with 1 teaspoon of sodium alginate and used my hand blender to mix. I placed a bowl of clean cold water next to that as a rinse bath.

Then I started making my ricotta spherification. I filled a teaspoon measure with the ricotta mixture and carefully dipped it into the alginate bath until it formed a sphere. It did form a sphere, just not a very heavy one. This was fine. If I wanted rigid cheese, I’d have just used the fresh mozz I had sitting in my fridge. I wanted something that would hold together on the plate, but soft enough to explode in your mouth when you ate it.

After rinsing, I continued making riccota spheres until I had about 4 of them. I placed them on the serving plate. They held together very well, no bursting – even when I placed the skinless cherry tomatoes on top of them.

I drizzled the basil oil over the top, garnished with baby basil leaves and ate it. it was fresh and delicious, and the pseudo-mozzarella was perfect. Katrina even commented that it tasted like “almost mozzarella.” I think that’s pretty much what ricotta cheese is anyway.

Now I can relax, but tomorrow cannot come too soon. A new episode is in the works, and you can bet I’ll be talking about our experience at The Bazaar.