Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tomato + Basil + Mozzarella

Put it on crust, it's pizza margherita.
Put it on pasta, it's pugno chiuso.
Put it on a pole, it's Italy.

In its purest form, the three come together for a salad named for a sun-kissed island where all three ingredients are available at the doorstep. L'insalata caprese is about timing. Each element--tomato, basil, mozz--must be at its prime. "It's simplicity," Chris says. "So it's all about the quality of the ingredients."

Finally, after a strange, cold summer, the prime has arrived in Indiana. "This is not the dish to eat in January," Chris says. "It's only perfect right now." Stop by the Goose to pick up the best of caprese fixings, fresh from the Hoosier fields.

Tomatoes: Mother Nature (along with some talented Hoosier farmers) has finally blessed us with vine-ripened, sun-polished, sweet, sweet tomatoes. The collection now available at the Goose includes the funky colors and complex flavors of heirlooms, spunky romas, and, of course, the juicy garden variety. These beauties are fresh from the vines of Seldom Seen Farm, Good Life Farms, and Big City Farms.

Basil: Matt Jose is an urban farmer with a rural green thumb. His fields are verdant wedges of unused city blocks, and from healthy, safe soil, he's culled some bright green leaves. Layer some flavors in your caprese with Thai, Lemon, or Sweet Italian Basil freshly cut from the rows at Big City Farms, just blocks away from the Goose.

Mozzarella: Oozing between the layers of green and red should be some slices of the best mozzarella on earth. For the traditionalists, there's Mozzarella di Bufala, a D.O.P. fresh water buffalo's milk cheese that oozes just a bit of sweet and sour buttermilk when sliced. But for true fans of the summer's best, there's Burrata, a cow's milk mozzarella balloon filled with a rich, fresh cream. For a truly Hoosier twang, a lucky few can snag the summer-only organic mozzarella from Traders Point Creamery.

Gilding the lilly? Hardly. A few, subtle additions to the caprese's basics bring the flavors together and frames summer on a plate. Head to the Goose's cellar to look for Santa Chiara extra virgin olive oil in the bottle wrapped in gold foil. Don't let the flash and dazzle fool you. This serious, Italian evoo has the tamed bite and balanced flavor to blend the caprese's sweet-tart flavors.

A sprinkling of salt enhances. Black lava or pure French fleur de sel are behind the counter at the Goose (just ask!), but for even more Hoosier goodness, try the hickory-smoked sea salt from Hickoryworks in Brown County.

The purists will note that veri italiani rarely splash a caprese with balsamic, but then again, their trains are never on time. The triune salad is an excellent palette on which to enjoy a three-year-old, thick and sweet balsamic vinegar from Modena. The dark syrup makes a crescendo of the salad, adding complexity and depth to the simple perfection.

"It doesn't get much better than this," says Chris, and he's a bacon eater. Here's to the Hoosier summer.

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