We can’t leave the subject of composed salads without discussing two of the great Italian contributions, the classic antipasto plate and insalata caprese. Although often served as an appetizer, with good bread and olive oil and a bottle of wine, the antipasto plate (meant to be served before the pasta) could become the meal itself. The same is true for the insalata caprese, although it might be more suited for a light supper or lunch.
Insalata caprese, or salad in the style of Capri, should not be made unless you have the best fresh tomatoes you can find. We only prepare it in the summer, unless we are fortunate enough to have some great tomatoes brough to us from Florida in the winter. You need fresh mozzarella and fresh basil. No dried basil allowed. No supermarket “Kraft” mozzarella allowed. I think it’s against the law. Anyway, layer slices of tomatoes on a plate overlapping each with slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf. Drizzle with good quality olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Delicioso! This can be made on a serving plate or prepared on individual salad plates. It can also be prepared with a plate of sliced tomatoes having scattered chunks of basil and mozzarella over the top. This can be a lifesaver if you don’t have enough mozzarella for distinct slices between each slice of tomato, or if your basil leaves are few in number.
An antipasto platter can consist of much the same ingredients as Nicoise salad: tuna, tomatoes, olives. But there are other ingredients that can be added as well. When we prepare it, we make sure to have bocconcini (bite-size balls of mozzarella made with small melon ball cutter and fresh mozzarella) or at least small pieces of mozzarella, marinated artichoke hearts, and roasted red pepper bites. Don’t forget to get some thinly sliced hard salami. It needs to be thinly sliced in order to roll it up tightly, somewhere between a toothpick and a pencil. Try to find a container of mixed olives, black, purple, green. Maybe get some oil-cured olives. They are so different in taste, and appearance, from the everyday olives. If you’ve never had oil-cured olives, get ready for a new taste sensation.
I’ll just make a list of ingredients and you can use whichever ones you want. The more the merrier! Everything is optional, just use the combination you like best or happen to have on hand. It can be served on a bed of lettuce but that is certainly not mandatory.
Olives (black, green, purple, oil-cured or a combination)
Hard salami, thinly sliced and rolled up tightly, or Genoa salami*
Marinated artichoke hearts
Roasted red peppers, cut in bite-size chunks or sliced
Tuna, preferable Italian in olive oil, but any will do in a pinch, save the oil if you want for drizzling
Mozzarella, in cubes or balls**
Cherry tomatoes, or Roma tomatoes cut in wedges
*Try adding or substituting prosciutto or mortadella
**For something different, instead of mozzarella, shave off some slices from a hunk of Parmesan or cube some Asiago cheese.
Use a large platter or a few small ones if you are serving a lot of people on one big table. Line the platter(s) with lettuce if desired. Keep a hole in the middle for a small bowl for the tuna. Surround the tuna with all the other ingredients, keeping each ingredient in one place if you want to mixing them around the platter. I like to keep each ingredient separate. Drizzle the oil from the tuna over all or use your favorite vinaigrette for drizzling or nothing at all. Good crusty bread is perfect for sopping up any leftover oil or vinaigrette on the plate.