Tomatoes, Mozzarella and Basil, My Way

Tomatoes, Mozzarella and Basil, My Way

Because of the time of year I first made this, I think of it as my Christmas Caprese, but I didn’t want its title to shackle it seasonally. Not least, you could argue, because nobody’s really got any business buying cherry tomatoes in December. But, frankly, if you live in the UK, the tomatoes you buy in August are not necessarily any sweeter or juicier than those bought in the bleak midwinter. Anyway, I can’t start apologizing for my unseasonal and unlocal approach now. I buy the tomatoes from my local greengrocer’s and that’s good enough for me. I mean, do I want to be eating nothing but cabbage and parsnips all winter?

I had thought that this approach to the simple tomato, mozzarella and basil salad would not have much currency in Italy, but I hear that Italian supermarkets now stock tomatoes in winter, even if their greengrocers – quite rightly – won’t. So, for anyone who buys tomatoes when they shouldn’t, and wants to help them up their game: this is the recipe for you. But you have to know that if I didn’t feel it was a bonus in its own right, I wouldn’t include it here.

In short, I roast the tomatoes to intensify their flavour, let them cool and then dot these sweet and sticky heat-wilted blobs of red around some of the best mozzarella I can get my hands on. Instead of strewing basil leaves (also unseasonal) around, I blend a cupful of them to a snooker-baize green purée with a little olive oil; you’ll need a stick blender for this, or at least I do.

For how many? Serves 6, or more as part of an antipasti table or buffet

Ingredients

  • 300g cherry tomatoes halved
  • sea salt flakes and ground pepper, (to taste)
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • 1 x 15ml tbsp regular olive oil
  • appox, 20g basil leaves
  • 4-5 x15ml tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-1½ tsp good red wine vinegar
  • 2 x 125g (drained weight) balls mozzarella (preferably buffalo)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 220°C/gas mark 7.

In a small baking tin in which the tomatoes will fi t snugly (I use a tarte Tatin tin) arrange the tomatoes cut-side up. Going over each tomato half, one by one, grind a little pepper and sprinkle on a little salt and the oregano, then dribble the tablespoon of olive oil over and transfer the tin to the oven to cook for 25 minutes, though check at 20 just in case they are so ened and heat-wilted by then. Remove and leave to cool to room temperature or just above. (They can be left at room temperature for about 4 hours.)

To make the sauce, put the basil leaves and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon vinegar and a small sprinkle of salt into a suitable bowl or cup, and blend to a deep-green purée with a stick blender. Add another 1–2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil as needed to form a not-entirely-smooth brilliant green paste that can be poured; taste to see if you want the remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon vinegar or more salt, and blend in if you do.

Take the mozzarella balls out of their liquid, drain, tear into pieces and, on a platter, arrange the mozzarella blossoms and the cooked, cooled tomato halves, then drizzle the basil dressing over them, and your beautiful creation is ready to be served, preferably with bread.

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