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The LTHForum Caprese Salad Index

The LTHForum Caprese Salad Index
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  • The LTHForum Caprese Salad Index

    Post #1 - May 26th, 2006, 6:53 pm
    Post #1 - May 26th, 2006, 6:53 pm Post #1 - May 26th, 2006, 6:53 pm
    Image

    If one had to name an Italian dish which is fast on its way to becoming as American as spaghetti and pizza, it would surely be the ubiquitous caprese salad. It has the best hallmarks of a classic dish-- it is simple to execute, yet capable of almost infinite refinement as one raises the quality of its basic and fresh ingredients, tomato, basil, mozzarella and olive oil. While styrofoam tomatoes, foodservice-bland dairy cow mozzarella, hydroponic decorative basil and 10W30 olive oil may make their appearances (even in the dead of winter) at hotel banquets and walking-cliche Ital-American restaurants, expertly chosen tomatoes from the height of the season, pungent basil, fresh and fragrant olive oil and tangy mozzarella di bufala can raise the dish to a nobility and purity of flavor on a par with any of man's culinary creations (as in the unconventionally arranged, but outstanding, one from Follia a couple of years back shown above).

    For that reason I've decided this spring and summer to start chronicling the capreses I make and eat, and grading them according to a 20-point scale (scoring four criteria 0 to 5). I encourage everyone to describe the capreses they encounter on the same basis. Through this process we should be able to more closely identify the best prospects for truly outstanding versions of this classic dish-- and more broadly, all of the fresh produce of summer-- as we move through caprese season.

    The LTHForum Caprese Salad Index
    19-20: dazzling
    17-18: superb
    15-16: artisanal
    13-14: accomplished
    11-12: skilled
    9-10: pleasant
    7-8: acceptable
    5-6: disappointing
    3-4: dismaying
    0-2: dismal


    Case Number: MG001
    Date consumed: 5/20/06
    Location: Home
    Tomato Score: 1.0

    Brownish-green oversize heirloom tomato from Whole Foods. Mild tomato flavor, mushy, expensive.
    Mozzarella Score: 3.5
    Mandara bufala from Trader Joe's. Discernable tang, good value.
    Basil Score: 3.0
    Standard bubble-packed basil from Whole Foods. Decent.
    Discretionary Points: 1
    New bottle of Costco Tuscan olive oil
    FINAL SCORE: 8.5/20

    Case Number: MG002
    Date consumed: 5/25/06
    Location: Home
    Tomato Score: 1.5

    Standard Whole Foods tomatoes on vine. No less flavor than more expensive heirlooms.
    Mozzarella Score: 2.5
    Cow cilegine from Whole Foods. Only 50 cents less than Trader Joe bufala (though you get more), much less flavor.
    Basil Score: 2.0
    Early basil from Green City Market smelled great, had surprisingly little flavor, big disappointment.
    Discretionary Points: 1
    New bottle of Costco Tuscan olive oil
    FINAL SCORE: 7.0/20
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  • Post #2 - May 26th, 2006, 8:29 pm
    Post #2 - May 26th, 2006, 8:29 pm Post #2 - May 26th, 2006, 8:29 pm
    I just returned from dinner at Zia's. Had I known I was to keep score, I surely would have. Zia's serves what they call a salad Capri. Their version has a very small amount of chiffonade basil and adds a slice of fairly decent prosciutto over the top of decent fresh mozzarella and better than I would expect for this time of year tomatoes. I guess, without a scientific breakdown such a Mike G's, I would put this version in the 8 - 9.5 range, although the addition of the prosciutto might disqualify it from being considered a caprese salad.

    Zia's Trattoria
    6699 N. Northwest Hwy
    Chicago, IL
    773-775-0808
    Steve Z.

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  • Post #3 - May 27th, 2006, 10:25 am
    Post #3 - May 27th, 2006, 10:25 am Post #3 - May 27th, 2006, 10:25 am
    I'm surprised you haven't tried the Campari tomatoes from Costco which were discussed here before. The only off season tomato I've rebought since I've started growing my own.

    Nancy
  • Post #4 - July 9th, 2006, 6:52 pm
    Post #4 - July 9th, 2006, 6:52 pm Post #4 - July 9th, 2006, 6:52 pm
    GWiv -- I was in the store today looking for 'maters....and I saw some decent vine ripened ones that actually smelled like tomatoes. I was wondering what's happened to your Caprese Exploration!!!

    I love the pics.

    Just some encouraging words....

    Shannon
  • Post #5 - July 9th, 2006, 6:53 pm
    Post #5 - July 9th, 2006, 6:53 pm Post #5 - July 9th, 2006, 6:53 pm
    WHOA.....my apologies to Mike G. And to GWiv.

    I still like the photos...

    !!!!

    shan
  • Post #6 - July 9th, 2006, 8:59 pm
    Post #6 - July 9th, 2006, 8:59 pm Post #6 - July 9th, 2006, 8:59 pm
    Interesting project!

    I'll put in a plug for my good friend Farmer Vicki of Genesis Growers. Farmer Vicki has been growing tomatoes in her hoop houses, and she has a full bloom of real tomatoes for sale right now. I mean not right now, right now, 'cause she works her ass off, organic farming, and I'm sure she's sleeping right now (interesting fun fact, do you know she has to get up at 1 AM for her market days?). The tomatoes are for sale Wednesday at Green City and Saturday in Oak Park. Even if you were not getting a jump start on the season, they're great tomatoes.

    Just for the record, these are tomatoes grown in the ground, the hoop house technology however increases the heat/sun, so it seems to these plants that they are a bit to the south, hence tricking mother nature into producing sooner (or later).

    Not from her hoop houses, but equally as good, she also has some outstanding cucumbers these days.

    Rob
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #7 - August 18th, 2006, 9:31 am
    Post #7 - August 18th, 2006, 9:31 am Post #7 - August 18th, 2006, 9:31 am
    Case Number: LTH-00017a
    Date consumed: 8/16/06
    Location: Gruppo di Amici
    Tomato Score: 0.5
    Cardboard like industrial grade, no discernable tomato flavor
    Mozzarella Score: 4.2
    Italian buffalo mozzarella, deep full flavor, creamy and rich.
    Basil Score: 2.5
    Fine, but nothing special. Knife cut, as opposed to torn.
    Discretionary Points: 1.5
    +2.5 for good olive oil, greenish tint with bright fruity flavor -.5 for chopped, as opposed to sliced, -.5 for slight overuse of olive oil
    FINAL SCORE: 8.7/20

    Gruppo di Amici Caprese Salad
    Image

    Gruppo di Amici
    1508 W. Jarvis
    Chicago, IL
    773-508-5565
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

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  • Post #8 - August 18th, 2006, 7:31 pm
    Post #8 - August 18th, 2006, 7:31 pm Post #8 - August 18th, 2006, 7:31 pm
    Not actually the first caprese I've eaten since the ones above, but the first one worth making a fuss about:

    Case Number: MG003
    Date consumed: 8/17/06
    Location: Home
    Tomato Score: 3.0

    Farmstand tomato bought last weekend, slightly mushy by now but quite good tomato flavor, as good as I've found so far this year.
    Mozzarella Score: 4.5
    Isola imported water buffalo mozzarella. Firm skin enclosing velvety interior, tangy taste, the best available here at retail in my book-- and at that price ($9) it damn well ought to be.
    Basil Score: 3.0
    Standard basil from Whole Foods. Again, decent but no more.
    Discretionary Points: 2
    Best tomato to date. Sprinkled with G Wiv-approved truffle salt.
    FINAL SCORE: 12.5/20
    Last edited by Mike G on August 21st, 2006, 2:28 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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  • Post #9 - August 21st, 2006, 9:06 am
    Post #9 - August 21st, 2006, 9:06 am Post #9 - August 21st, 2006, 9:06 am
    This was packed as a picnic to take to the Illinois Railway Museum for "A Day Out With Thomas." It was a Very Useful Caprese Salad.

    Case Number: MG004
    Date consumed: 8/20/06
    Location: Union, Illinois
    Tomato Score: 3.8

    Tomato from Green City, best tomato yet this season.
    Mozzarella Score: 4.5
    Isola imported water buffalo mozzarella, see MG003.
    Basil Score: 5.0
    Genoese basil from Green City, incredible head of perfume, stunningly wonderful.
    Discretionary Points: 3
    Extra points for the sheer ridiculousness of yuppies taking expensive food that's been trucked to a "farmstand" in the middle of the city out to the countryside to eat it while surrounded by farmstands.
    FINAL SCORE: 16.3/20
    Last edited by Mike G on August 21st, 2006, 2:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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  • Post #10 - August 21st, 2006, 9:43 am
    Post #10 - August 21st, 2006, 9:43 am Post #10 - August 21st, 2006, 9:43 am
    Mike G wrote:Not actually the first caprese I've eaten since the ones above, but the first one worth making a fuss about:

    Case Number: MG003
    Date consumed: 8/17/06
    Location: Home
    Tomato Score: 3.0

    Farmstand tomato bought last weekend, slightly mushy by now but quite good tomato flavor, as good as I've found so far this year.
    Mozzarella Score: 5.0
    Isola imported water buffalo mozzarella. Firm skin enclosing velvety interior, tangy taste, the best available here in my book-- and at that price ($9) it damn well ought to be.
    Basil Score: 3.0
    Standard basil from Whole Foods. Again, decent but no more.
    Discretionary Points: 2
    Best tomato to date. Sprinkled with G Wiv-approved truffle salt.
    FINAL SCORE: 13/20

    When I'm making a Caprese at home, I often rely upon the Isola Buffalo Mozzarella and I like it quite a bit too. But I'm disappointed how difficult it is to find better Buffalo Mozzarella in the Chicago area (Gruppo di Amici's Buffalo Mozzarella could be the standard for me -- it's about as perfect as I've tasted). I've seen the Isola many places, including Bouffe and Fox & Obel, but I can't find sources for other Buffalo Mozzarella. I asked at The Cheese Stands Alone and he said he just doesn't see enough interest so as to order it (I plan on trying their non-Buffalo Mozzarella though since he says it's excellent). Has anyone purchased Buffalo Mozzarella in the area that they like better than Isola? Curious.
  • Post #11 - August 21st, 2006, 9:52 am
    Post #11 - August 21st, 2006, 9:52 am Post #11 - August 21st, 2006, 9:52 am
    As noted above, I liked the one at Trader Joe's, which was $3 less than Isola's, and not $3 less good (though not as good). But of course, now that we're in prime tomato season, they don't have it.

    The best I've had was at Follia, at least so my memory tells me, I need to go back soon and try it again.
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  • Post #12 - August 23rd, 2006, 6:36 am
    Post #12 - August 23rd, 2006, 6:36 am Post #12 - August 23rd, 2006, 6:36 am
    Case Number: LTH-00018a
    Date consumed: 8/20/06
    Location: Home
    Tomato Score: 4.8
    Crinkly juice dripping sigh inducing tomato from m'th'su's roof top garden
    Mozzarella Score: 2.0
    Deeply average BelGioioso fresh mozzarella
    Basil Score: 4.2
    Straight from Steve Z's garden
    Discretionary Points: 2.0
    Enjoyment enhanced by two components coming from friends gardens
    FINAL SCORE:13/20
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    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #13 - September 6th, 2006, 5:42 pm
    Post #13 - September 6th, 2006, 5:42 pm Post #13 - September 6th, 2006, 5:42 pm
    Image

    N.B.: Case Number MG005 is located here.

    After MG005, the sublime Follia caprese, last week, I thought my efforts to chronicle and grade Caprese salads were finished for the season. But I happened to stop at the Trader Joe's in Glen Ellyn yesterday, and saw the Mandara buffalo mozzarella (see case MG001 above) on sale again. That inspired me to hit Green City Market this morning and see if I could assemble the ingredients to make my personal best caprese of the season:

    Case Number: MG006
    Date consumed: 9/6/06
    Location: Home
    Tomato Score: 4.5

    Tried two different tomatoes (a variety striped with yellow was rejected as too spicy for a caprese); slight edge to smaller variety over beefsteak style, but both were everything you hope for in a ripe, flavorful summer tomato.
    Mozzarella Score: 3.9
    Mandara from Trader Joe's, score bumped up slightly since tasting Follia's and Isola's; this is certainly the best mozz' for the moolah to be had in town.
    Basil Score: 4.6
    Not the Genoese (which I used up making pesto), but almost as perfumy; I sniffed three or four different choices before buying this from Nichols.
    Discretionary Points: 4.0
    Not only the best I've made at home, by far, this year, but made even better by the knowledge that fall is approaching, Thanatos is in the air, its like shall not be seen again for many months.
    FINAL SCORE: 17/20

    Image
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  • Post #14 - September 6th, 2006, 6:31 pm
    Post #14 - September 6th, 2006, 6:31 pm Post #14 - September 6th, 2006, 6:31 pm
    Mike G wrote:[Mandara from Trader Joe's, score bumped up slightly since tasting Follia's and Isola's; this is certainly the best mozz' for the moolah to be had in town.


    First, lovely final product. Now, best...have you tried Brunkow's? Also, and my wife swears I am wrong on this, but Caputo's in Melrose Park has an offering that seems new to me. It's called housemade, and it's different than the other fresh mozzerallas in their deli. It really looks the hand. It's not as explosively, know where the cows were last night, delicious as Brunkows, but the texture is pretty cool.
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #15 - September 6th, 2006, 6:41 pm
    Post #15 - September 6th, 2006, 6:41 pm Post #15 - September 6th, 2006, 6:41 pm
    Does Brunkow's have fresh mozzarella? I've tried other things of theirs, as you know, but I looked at the various cheese stands today (as much as a 30-minute meter allowed me) to see if anyone had fresh mozzarella and no such luck. Anyway, water buffalo mozzarella is qualitatively different from any cow mozzarella, I think, hence my saying that the cheapest good bufala must be the best deal in town. Which is not to say I wouldn't be happy to try some good local cow mozzarellas.

    I tried Minnelli's housemade stuff last year, it was decent enough, but not quite worth making a trek up that way for alone. Maybe I'll try to try Caputo's here in the postseason. I should also go back to Piccolo Mondo, which was my favorite caprese for a long time....
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  • Post #16 - September 7th, 2006, 8:19 am
    Post #16 - September 7th, 2006, 8:19 am Post #16 - September 7th, 2006, 8:19 am
    How is the Buffalo Mozarella from Costco? I didn't see which brand it was...
    Leek

    SAVING ONE DOG may not change the world,
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  • Post #17 - September 7th, 2006, 11:05 am
    Post #17 - September 7th, 2006, 11:05 am Post #17 - September 7th, 2006, 11:05 am
    Surprised no one has noted the mozz at Spacca Napoli. Offered as an app with prosciutto, you get a huge, weeping blob of what I think is tremendous cheese.
  • Post #18 - September 7th, 2006, 11:53 am
    Post #18 - September 7th, 2006, 11:53 am Post #18 - September 7th, 2006, 11:53 am
    Just doublechecked and did not see buffalo mozzarella (nor have I ever) at Costco, just domestic cow mozz.
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  • Post #19 - September 8th, 2006, 7:01 am
    Post #19 - September 8th, 2006, 7:01 am Post #19 - September 8th, 2006, 7:01 am
    Mike G wrote:Just doublechecked and did not see buffalo mozzarella (nor have I ever) at Costco, just domestic cow mozz.


    Yep, they sold out. It was there over the weekend, gone now. But they do have the figs again :)
    Leek

    SAVING ONE DOG may not change the world,
    but it CHANGES THE WORLD for that one dog.
    American Brittany Rescue always needs foster homes. Please think about helping that one dog. http://www.americanbrittanyrescue.org
  • Post #20 - September 19th, 2006, 8:25 pm
    Post #20 - September 19th, 2006, 8:25 pm Post #20 - September 19th, 2006, 8:25 pm
    Case Number: LTH-00019a
    Date consumed: 9/19/06
    Location: Home
    Tomato Score: 2.5
    Mediocre tomatoes from Lincoln SQ Farmers Market, needed a short marinade in olive oil, salt and balsamic to perk them up
    Mozzarella Score: 3.5
    Mandara bufala from Trader Joe's
    Basil Score: 3.5
    Late summer from our garden
    Discretionary Points: 1.0
    For using basil Ellen grew
    FINAL SCORE: 10.5/20

    Image
    Last edited by G Wiv on July 14th, 2007, 12:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #21 - September 19th, 2006, 9:16 pm
    Post #21 - September 19th, 2006, 9:16 pm Post #21 - September 19th, 2006, 9:16 pm
    Followup report on the bufala from Costco, mentioned here.

    Case Number: MG007
    Date consumed: 9/19/06
    Location: Home
    Tomato Score: 3.3

    One surviving tomato from last Saturday at Green City, quite good, an okay red and a slightly better yellow from Lincoln Square farmer's market this morning, round varieties apparently slightly better than the Roma style ones G Wiv bought there today.
    Mozzarella Score: 3.5
    Costco bufala, described here.
    Basil Score: 4.0
    Genovese from Saturday, on its last legs but still quite flavorful.
    Discretionary Points: 2.0
    New bottle of Lucini olive oil, probably the best value among the non-house brands at Whole Foods (I think I was tipped to it here.)
    FINAL SCORE: 12.8/20
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  • Post #22 - November 20th, 2006, 9:57 am
    Post #22 - November 20th, 2006, 9:57 am Post #22 - November 20th, 2006, 9:57 am
    Image

    I had assumed this project was over, at least for the year, but having a good one recently reminded me of another I never got around to cataloguing (but richly deserving of same):

    Case Number: MG008
    Date consumed: 9/24/06
    Location: forest preserve picnic area, prepared by Jazzfood
    Tomato Score: 4.9

    Amazingly flavorful-- and beautiful-- handpicked assortment of really good ones
    Mozzarella Score: 4.9
    Good tangy bufala with tough skin, creamy interior.
    Basil Score: 4.5
    Fresh, bright.
    Discretionary Points: 5.0
    Dazzling presentation with cheese grilled inside grape leaves, which added their own slightly bitter, Mediterranean flavor
    FINAL SCORE: 19.3/20
    Image

    Case Number: MG009
    Date consumed: 11/14/06
    Location: Grupo di Amici
    Tomato Score: 3.7

    About as good as it's going to get in November, chunks of slightly hard but flavorful romas.
    Mozzarella Score: 5.0
    Excellent mozzarella, creamy and tangy, a little salty but no worse for probably being salt-water-packed, this is indeed as good as any had on this side of the Atlantic.
    Basil Score: 3.4
    See tomato.
    Discretionary Points: 3.0
    Extra points for upgrading the tomatoes, apparently after comments made at LTHForum. Look forward to trying again in season next year.
    FINAL SCORE: 15.1/20
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  • Post #23 - November 30th, 2006, 12:23 pm
    Post #23 - November 30th, 2006, 12:23 pm Post #23 - November 30th, 2006, 12:23 pm
    i'm flattered you enjoyed it so much. it's all about the ingredients though, i just bought them. thank you.
    "In pursuit of joys untasted"
    from Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata
  • Post #24 - July 14th, 2007, 12:50 pm
    Post #24 - July 14th, 2007, 12:50 pm Post #24 - July 14th, 2007, 12:50 pm
    Case Number: LTH-00027b
    Date consumed: 7/14/07
    Location: Home
    Tomato Score: 3.75
    Big Boy tomatoes from Green City Farmers Marketp
    Mozzarella Score: 3.5
    Very fresh cow milk mozzarella from The Cheese Stands Alone
    Basil Score: 3.5
    Mid summer from our garden
    Discretionary Points: 2.0
    For using basil my wife Ellen grew and aged balsamic vinegar
    FINAL SCORE: 12.75/20

    Image
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #25 - July 14th, 2007, 2:13 pm
    Post #25 - July 14th, 2007, 2:13 pm Post #25 - July 14th, 2007, 2:13 pm
    I fully understand the love people have for this simple dish. It's a summer favorite of ours as well, and now that my basil plants are flourishing after the recent rains, we've had it several times in the last few weeks., What I don't understand is why the scoring system does not take the oil into account. To me, the quality and character of the olive oil has nearly as much impact on the final result as do the tomatos and cheese and far more than the type of basil used. This dish has only four ingredients, and each is critical to it's success. A mediocre oil can ruin an otherwise potentially outstanding preparation, and while a good oil cannot ressurect a salad made from mediocre tomatoes or cheese, a great one can be a saving grace when the best of the other ingredients are not available.

    The basil gets a score and the oil doesn't? This needs another look I think!
    Lacking fins or tail
    The Gefilte fish
    swims with great difficulty.

    Jewish haiku.
  • Post #26 - July 21st, 2007, 7:35 am
    Post #26 - July 21st, 2007, 7:35 am Post #26 - July 21st, 2007, 7:35 am
    kuhdo wrote:What I don't understand is why the scoring system does not take the oil into account.

    Kuhdo,

    Good point on the olive oil.

    With my 7.14.07 caprese I used Primagoccia, a lightly fruity extra virgin from Barbera.

    Olive Oil Score: 3.5

    Image
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #27 - July 21st, 2007, 11:18 pm
    Post #27 - July 21st, 2007, 11:18 pm Post #27 - July 21st, 2007, 11:18 pm
    Conte di Savoia on Taylor makes a very nice fresh cow's milk mozzarella every Saturday and Sunday.They keep this on top of the counter as the owner points out the cheese changes significantly if refrigerated. Do not confuse this with the tubs of Sargento fresh mozzarella in the cooler (which is just for sandwiches). I really like this cheese and at $5.95/lb this is a real deal. If you get it on the day it's made, and use it right away (before ever being refrigerated), you cannot help but be taken with the delicate texture and subtle creaminess. They also sell the Isola buffalo mozzarella for about $3.00 less than Whole Foods. Riviera make a nice fresh mozzarella as well, but I slightly prefer this.

    Regarding oils, lately I've been using Frescobaldi Laudemio , a Tuscan oil with a slightly bitter finish that I like very much and which seems to make a good foil for the sweet (but somewhat tough skinned) fourth of July tomatoes recently available at farmer's markets around town.
    Lacking fins or tail
    The Gefilte fish
    swims with great difficulty.

    Jewish haiku.
  • Post #28 - July 22nd, 2007, 9:55 am
    Post #28 - July 22nd, 2007, 9:55 am Post #28 - July 22nd, 2007, 9:55 am
    As kuhdo pointed out, it's easy to see why there is such a love for this dish because in order for it to work well, all the ingredients really have to be good. If one part of the equation is sub-standard, then the whole dish will be so.

    I have a question for you all. Is balsamic vinegar supposed to be a part of this dish or not? It seems that there are so many restaurants that serve it with just a touch of balsamic, but then I read recently that it should not be added because it can interfere with the mozzarella. According to what I was reading, this is especially true if you are using mozzarella di bufala.

    Thanks for the help!
  • Post #29 - July 22nd, 2007, 9:58 am
    Post #29 - July 22nd, 2007, 9:58 am Post #29 - July 22nd, 2007, 9:58 am
    I occasionally dress a substandard caprese-- middling cow-milk mozz, nothing great tomatoes and basil-- with balsamic to spiff it up.

    I think it's basically putting ketchup on it, though. (It's definitely making it sweeter.) If you've got good ingredients, the balsamic will drown out the subtler flavors and thus it's definitely NOT what you want.
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  • Post #30 - July 23rd, 2007, 10:16 am
    Post #30 - July 23rd, 2007, 10:16 am Post #30 - July 23rd, 2007, 10:16 am
    I go back and forth on this. When everyting is perfect I'll usually do without any embelishment. I also tend to avoid using balsamic when doing the dish as a mixed salad. When doing an arranged plate with tomato slices, cheese, oil and basil all neatly stacked I will often drizzle a few drops of balsamic over the top. There is something about using the vinegar in this way that seems to preserve the integrity of the constituient parts better than mixing it in to a salad. Plus, it looks really nice. It's important to get the right balsamic here. I've tried several and have found that for my taste, the Villa Mandori works best.
    Lacking fins or tail
    The Gefilte fish
    swims with great difficulty.

    Jewish haiku.

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