There’s a reason the antipasto insalata caprese [Eng. Caprese salad, or the salad of Capri] has become legendary. It’s extraordinarily delicious when the ingredients are the best. Also, mozzarella comes from the Campania region, as do, arguably, the best tomatoes in the world, and Capri has been a jewel off the coast of Campania for thousands of years.
Last night for the first time I thought about the origin of this arrangement of such simple ingredients, and I posited that some hotel chef had probably come up with it in the 1920s or 30s. It seems I was right. An excerpt from one account of the history of the dish, with its reference to the Italian art movement of the century, made it all more interesting than I had expected (even the Farouk anecdote which shows up on that site and elsewhere pales in comparison):
“..the first historical mention is from the early 1920s when it appeared in the menu at the Hotel Quisisana where Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, founder of Futurism, in the summer of 1924 raged against pasta calling it ‘outdated’.”
- an insalata caprese, here a spread of alternating layers of a house-made mozzarella classica from Eataly, slice heirloom tomatoes from Berried Treasures Farm, and whole leaves of Genoa basil from Windfall Farm, sprinkled with Maldon salt and coarsely-ground black pepper, drizzled with a great Campania olive oil (Lamparelli O.R.O.)
- slices of a She Wolf Bakery miche
I had spotted the black pansotti in the display case the day before. It was beautiful. I knew I wanted to have it, to serve it, but I was already had fish for dinner that night in my bag, so I went back the next day.
- squid ink pansotti, with a filling of mascarpone, scallion, and lump crab meat, from Luca Donofrio‘s fresh pasta shop inside Eataly’s Flatiron store, cooked very briefly, served with a sauce made by gently heating 2 Keith’s Farm rocambole garlic cloves in a little olive oil inside a heavy antique, high-sided coper pot until they had softened and become fragrant, adding a fresh medium size habanada pepper, sliced, near the end, stirring it with the pansotti for no more than a minute, then introducing the drained pasta and some of the reserved pasta water, cooking over a medium-high flame until the liquid had emulsified, a teaspoon or so of pink peppercorns tossed in and stirred, the mix arranged in shallow bowls, a little olive oil drizzled around the edges, garnished with red micro mustard from Two Guys from Woodbridge