Friday, June 6, 2014

“Insalata Caprese” A Symphony Of Flavors For "National Dairy Month"

In Italy, food is culture. It is part of the history of the country as well as the Italian lifestyle. Italy is a place with sophisticated taste. One of the most famous types of food in Italy is fresh Italian cheeses. There is nothing like an authentic savory Italian cheese, paired with some sweet juicy fruit, and a glass of Chianti wine. If you try Italian cheeses just once, I promise that you will fall in love forever.

Some of my readers will remember that in a past story, I talked about my Dad and when he owned his Italian Deli in Astoria, NY. When I was young I would go to the deli on weekends and help my father. Remember, I was young maybe about 12 or so. It was always fun to help stock some of the shelves and whatever I could do to help out at my young age. My grandfather was also part owner and I enjoyed going to the “store” to be with him as well. My grandfather Julius, (my dad’s father) was a very gentle and loving man. He always tried to make you laugh and was a very handsome. My grandfather sported a small thin pencil like mustache and his dark hair was slicked back. He was quiet but if you asked him a question about sports he was your man. My grandpa would always listen to his transistor radio with earplugs in his ears not to disturb anyone, and was never without a newspaper. He worked behind the counter and never really used the cash register. My grandfather would add up all the items as he wrote them on a paper bag, (no plastic bags, only paper at that time) and would come up with the exact figure. My dad was also a math wiz, and would amaze me when he did the total amount of the customers order, sometimes there might be about 15-20 items or more. They both would just use their heads, no calculator just great math skills. I always envied them. 
Myself and my grandfather

As you walk in my dad’s store, you couldn’t help smell the aromas of all the Italian cheeses hanging from the ceiling. Big round ones, long ones and small ones were all hanging on hooks with ropes next to the salami’s and prosciutto. It was a sight to see! As you looked all around some of the cheeses were opened in the window cases so you can see the inside of the tasty savory cheeses. As you can see, I grew up with these cheeses and I am very proud to have been in a family that enjoys this culture and celebrates its tradition.

The month of June is “National Dairy Month,” so let’s travel to Italy and explore the many types of truly authentic Italian Cheeses that are indispensable for adding delicious flavors to the many dishes of the Italian culture. There are about 300 types of Italian cheeses. Some are hard, some are semi-soft and then there are just the soft types, so I would love to share with you 5 of the most popular Italian cheeses that are used today.         

Mozzarella: is traditionally made from Buffalo milk in southern Italy (Campania region) and has a taste that is mild and delicate. It is now made world wide from cow’s milk. Its texture is soft and chewy. Mozzarella is the key ingredient in Italian pizza and lasagna can also be fried in a stick shape which is a popular appetizer in restaurants.

Ricotta: is a traditional, creamy mild whey cheese made from cow’s or sheep’s milk. It is white and wet, moist but not sticky. Ricotta should be firm, but not solid. It is primarily used in lasagna, can be used as a white pizza and is widely used in many other Italian specialty dishes.

Mascarpone: is a soft, white, fresh, vegetarian, cream cheese made in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy. In fact, it really is not considered a cheese at all, but rather the result of a culture being added to the cream skimmed off the milk, used in the production of Parmesan. It has a mild flavor and it is used as a substitute for whipped cream. Mascarpone is easy to spread and can be added to famous Italian desserts, sometimes accompanied by cognac. Mascarpone is the secret of a good Tiramisu recipe.

Parmesan: is named after the town of Parma in Northern Italy. Parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano one of the world’s most popular and widely enjoyed cheeses, also known as the King of undisputed cheeses. It is a traditional, unpasteurized, hard cheese made from cow’s skimmed milk. It is generally aged for 2-3 years. It has a sharp, salty, and full flavor. It comes in the shape of a drum with a sticky hard, yellow rind. The aroma is sweet and fruity, and it is ivory or pale yellow in color. Parmigiano Reggiano is primarily a grating cheese used as toppings for soups, pasta dishes, salads, and chicken. This cheese is sold in chunks or wedges and then can be grated or shaved.
Pecorino: is the name given to all Italian cheeses made from sheep’s milk. Pecora in Italian means sheep and it is one of Italy’s oldest cheeses. Pecorino Romano is the name given to cheeses from the Rome area, Pecorino Sardo is from Sardinia, Pecorino Siciliano is from Sicily. Also known as Locatelli which is the brand name of Pecorino Romano. It is a traditional creamery, hard, drum cheese made from sheep’s milk. The smooth hard rind is pale straw to dark brown in color. The interior color is white to pale yellow. It takes 8 to 12 months to mature, during which time it develops its characteristic flavor which is salty, with a fruity tang that becomes steadily more robust. Pecorino is a very tasty product and it is used in recipes like baked ravioli, grated or shaved on sauces and pasta dishes.

As I mentioned above, these cheeses can be paired with a wonderful Chianti wine. Chianti Classico (Riserva) are best when accompanied by food, with a tomato base such as spaghetti, meatballs, chicken cacciatore and even Osso Bucco. They have become much more popular and available in wine stores and restaurants. Chianti has an aroma of cherries and plums and some even say violets. The best wines have a slight spiciness and even a touch of saltiness. If you haven’t tried Chianti for a while or never have had the pleasure of trying, please go to your favorite wine store and taste this complex, Italian red wine. Find a place for Chianti at your table and you’ll be glad that you did. So enjoy your chesses with your bottle of Chianti wine and as we say in Italian,
“Gustare il formaggio e il vino.” (enjoy your cheese and wine)

This weekend’s recipe celebrates a lovely refreshing dish made with Mozzarella Cheese, called:

Insalata Caprese” (salad in the style of Capri)

1 pound of fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2-3 large vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
Fresh basil leaves (about 10)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of drained capers (optional)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a circular design around the side of a serving plate, alternate fresh mozzarella slices on a large platter with sliced tomatoes, overlapping for effect. Tear fresh basil leaves and sprinkle liberally over the slices.  Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Sprinkle capers over the top if using them. Just before serving drizzle on top with quality extra-virgin olive oil.
Can be served with crusty Italian bread and an array of other appetizers.

***Note: Insalata Caprese should never be allowed to sit in oil for any length of time and become soggy, and no vinegar of any kind goes on true Insalata Caprese!

Till next time……..

Copyright  © 2014 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved


  1. How lucky to grow up with a dad who owned a deli. You certainly must have enjoyed trying all those lovely salami and cheeses. I love the photo with your granddad. You look so happy!
    And you are right Italy has such a wide and cuisine. Your caprese looks so good and tasty!
    Love this post, have a nice weekend X

    1. Dear Alida, Yes, I was very blessed with my dad and grandfather who owned the Deli. My dad left the store when my grandfather got sick, and sold it. It was too much for him to deal with all alone. Then he went to JCPenney and worked till he retired as a Senior Control Buyer in the corporate office, in NYC. But those years in the store were my favorite times in my life. Thanks about my photo with my grandpa, he was 76 there and we had given him a surprise party. I must have been about 15-16 years old. I have no date on the photo. His birthday was June 9, so a perfect way to give him a tribute. I agree, that Italy has so much to offer as to its cuisine. A perfect way to enjoy cheese is with a Caprese. Thank you Alida dear friend for stopping over...Have a great weekend...Dottie :)

  2. Good morning dear Dottie ,
    What a wonderful post to share about your Dad and Grandfather and the family deli . So many good memories that you can look back and smile upon . As you say , without the cheese most Italian would not be the same , I always keep the cheese on hand . there is a restaurant it the hotel casino that just transport you to Italy , just the smell of the food takes your breath away .I make sure I lunch there when I help out at HR , it's on the same floor .
    The salad is delicious and I can almost taste it ;-D .
    Your comments are getting through , I started using the moderation because I started getting a lot of spam comments . The mayhaws are grown in orchards now like other frit or nut trees .
    I enjoyed this post as always and thanks for sharing your family with us .
    Your grandfather was very handsome and I think you look a bite like him . Blessing dear Dottie for a wonderful weekend :) ~Nee~

    1. Good Saturday morning Nee,
      Thanks for stopping by,,,Yes, I agree what great memories to have, and I will cherish them always. Without the cheese, would be like having coffee without the coffee. I don't think I could live without it. It can be eating in so many ways, especially with pasta...can you imagine...I can't even think about living without cheese. I love places like that restaurant, they do take you on a journey only your taste buds can be sure that you are in Italy. That is great that you are on the same floor, not much time to get to your HR. And like you said the salad is really so delicious, it melts in your mouth.
      Glad that my posts are getting through, seems every time I post to your page, blogger gets stuck, and then I have to write it all over again. I don't blame you....if you are getting spam comments that has to be stopped. I get them once in a while and just delete them from the blog. So glad that you enjoyed my post and recipe. Yes, my grandfather was a handsome man, I have heard that I look like him a lot. Dear Nee you have a lovely weekend with your family and blessings always. Dottie :)

  3. Dear Dottie,
    These are happy, happy memories. I bet this was heaven to have a deli and be surrounded with all these wonderful meats and cheeses.
    Along with the enjoyment of being with family. Those were cherished times.

    One of my favorites as far as salads. This salad and a loaf of bread and you are set!!
    Have a beautiful weekend and blessings dear. Catherine xo

    1. Dear Catherine, Yes, the memories that I have are happy ones! I always helped on the weekends. I would line the milk in the refrigerator, and the Italian bread that came fresh that morning, I would put each one in the sleeves. I even helped my dad make homemade sausage. For a young person that was big stuff. Then lunch time came and I could choose whatever hero I wanted with a soda and a bag of chips. Fun memories. My Nanni, (that is my dad's mother) had a Millinery Hat shop next door, so I would go there in the afternoon, she taught me to crochet and we always had fun times. It was a perfect scenario.So yes those were cherished times never to be forgotten. Glad that you liked the “Insalata Caprese"...It is a delicious dish. Thanks for stopping over to visit, have a glorious weekend, and blessings..Dottie :)

  4. Good morning Dottie!

    How cool to learn your family owned a deli. Oh how I miss those Italian delis from New York. Here in central PA they are not familiar with delis of any kind. Too bad for them, lol...

    I can just imagine the aromas of the deli floating in the air. You just never know what you want to eat first. The hanging salami or the vast amounts of cheese.

    What wonderful memories to have tucked inside your heart:) Treasure them always.

    I'm not much of a salad lover but, I must admit, Italian salads are my favorite with Insalata Caprese being at the top of my list!

    That picture with you and your grandfather is priceless! Thank you so much for all your kind words on my blog and for sharing this story and the recipe. Have a glorious week dear Dottie...

    1. Dear Louise, Thanks for your visit today! Yes, I remember the aromas, the sights, and the fun that I had when I would visit my dad's store. You are right, dear Louise, these are memories that I will treasure and never forget! This salad is not really a salad, it is tomatoes with cheese, mixed with Olive Oil. So refreshing and delicious. The thing with this is that you must keep out the cheese for a while, so it can get softer. As it will taste better. I love that photo of my grandfather and myself. My parents had given him a surprise party in our backyard when we lived in Queens. He was a special man, funny, and very good to his grandchildren. He laughed all the time. I remember a story once, he loved chocolates and would take all the wrappers that the chocolates came in and wet the backs, then put them on his face, looking like a clown. He was known for that He originally was a tailor. Then he went into the grocery business. Fond memories...I am so glad that you enjoyed the post and the recipe. Blessing on a good week back to you! Dottie :)

  5. How lucky you were to have your father and grandfather run an Italian deli!!! OMG, I would have weighed 300 lbs! haha! Love the photo of you with your Nonno (did you call him that?) I adore every single one of the cheeses you mentioned and I must say, I am SO happy to see you tell your readers that no vinegar should be added to a Caprese salad!!! If it's added, it's no longer Caprese, but something else, right? :) Good job, Dottie!! :)

    1. Dear Christina, You are so funny, yep, thank goodness we were not around the store all the time, or forget about it as they say...But when I was there to help out it was an amazing time...I felt like I was transported to Italy, between the aromas and the food. I even used to help my dad make the homemade sausage. it was a hard life for my dad, open 7 days a week, and not being able to come home till late at night. Holidays were off a little unless he hired someone to fill in for the day. Then my Nonno was starting to fail, so it was all on my dad's shoulders. No, I would have loved to call him Nonno, but he was just grandpa to me. My grandmother (his wife) I called Nanni...this was my dad's side of the family. My mom's parents, I just called grandma and grandpa. Yes, a deadly sin, no vinegar! Thank you for stopping by to visit. Have a great weekend...:)