Friday, October 26, 2012

A Taste of Italy: Caprese Bean Salad



After our recent encounter with a very expensive bean salad at a restaurant, I found myself with a hankering for a homemade Caprese Bean Salad, at a fraction of the cost.  It’s exactly what it sounds like it should be: a Caprese salad with the addition of green beans.  We first had it at a Chicago Italian restaurant, but I’ve since included the dish in my rotation of simple-but-special salads.  In fact, it’s one of the dishes that my mother has repeatedly asked a “recipe” for—my mother, who never would use a recipe in her Korean cooking!  I hated to deflate her sense of wonder at what she considers exotic, but really the only fairly unique items you need are good balsamic vinegar and expensive fresh mozzarella.

Ingredients (to make 2 main dish salads or 4 side dish salads):

½ lb. trimmed fresh green beans (or haricot verts)
1 ripe tomato
1 ball of fresh buffalo mozzarella
4-5 large leaves fresh basil
4 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T aged balsamic vinegar
1 small clove garlic, minced
Coarsely ground sea salt and black pepper
1 T toasted pine nuts (optional)


Like most Italian dishes, the magic is in first-rate ingredients.  You don’t need to utilize special preparations or sauces or a long list of spices and herbs.  In fact, all you need in terms of seasoning would be good salt and pepper, fresh basil and garlic.  But do make sure that your buffalo mozzarella is soft—even creamy in the center—and that it does not resemble any mozzarella that could be shredded!  You need a ripe tomato that is room temperature, not something that is refrigerated or unripe or mealy.  You get the idea.  Everything should be in top form.

Steps:

1.  Boil a large pot of water and then add ½ t salt.  Pour in trimmed and cleaned green beans and start the timer immediately.  If using haricot verts, do not cook for more than 2-3 minutes.  With regular green beans, you can cook for 4 minutes.  As soon as the timer goes off, drain the beans and then dump the beans into a large bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process and to crisp.


2.  Cut your ripe tomato into 8 wedges and place in a wide shallow salad bowl.  Tear your fresh basil leaves into irregular pieces over the tomatoes.  (Note: Thomas Keller believes that chopping fresh herbs leaves too much of the flavor on the cutting board.  Sometimes, for aesthetics, I chiffonade herbs.  Sometimes, I tear.  Use your preference.)


3.  Drain your beans and add to the salad bowl.  Then combine minced fresh garlic, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, and then salt and pepper to taste.  Pour dressing over the beans, tomato, and basil.  Mix gently.  Top with wedges of buffalo mozzarella and toasted pine nuts (if using).  Try not to mix again since you don’t really want to stain your milky mozzarella pieces with the dressing too much.  (Note: At some restaurants, the buffalo mozzarella is an option--an expensive one at that.  At our home we rarely opt not to include the cheese, but the salad is perfectly acceptable without it.)


Serve with a chunk of nice crusty bread to make a light and elegant dinner.  Lately, we have become enamored of two different kinds of bread: a potato scallion boule and a mushroom rosemary roasted garlic baguette.  They make nice companions to this salad, along with a glass of chianti.  



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