One of my most vivid memories is my first caprese salad in Rome in 2006, when Michael, Alison (our older daughter), and I traveled in Italy to celebrate Al’s 30th birthday and her master’s degree in education. We stumbled into a sleek, modern restaurant, Recafé, just south of Piazza del Popolo. They ordered pizza, which Al to this day remembers as the best pizza she ever ate. I chose an insalata caprese—tomatoes, basil, and bufala mozzarella, which is made from the milk of the Italian water buffalo. The salad came on a dinner-sized plate—a huge serving—and my first though was, “I’ll never be able to eat all of that! I wish I’d ordered a pizza.” Then I took my first bite, and I swear the earth stood still! I’d never tasted mozzarella cheese like that. Sure enough, I wasn’t able to “eat all of that,” but I made a big dent in that salad.
As our family who read my Tunisia trip diary may recall, Michael and I made a mad dash to Recafé when we had a five-hour layover in Rome in 2008. I couldn’t WAIT to have another caprese salad! So I was crushed to find no insalata caprese on the menu, but I came close: I had pizza margherita, with (you guessed it) tomatoes, basil, and bufala mozzarella. The day was saved! Michael had a scrumptious white pizza with anchovies and zucchini blossoms.
I’ve eaten a lot of mozzarella in the United States, and I think it’s fine but not fabulous. I don’t know what it is about Italian bufala mozzarella. Maybe it’s the slight snap of the skin when I take my first bite or the creamy texture of the cheese inside. As my sister, Julie, would say, it has a moreish (as in I want more) quality. Whatever it is, I eat insalata caprese every day when I make my lunch in Rome, and I often have insalata caprese when I go out for lunch. In fact when Michael and I moved into a suites apartment in Rome’s Aventino section for a week in July, the first meal we made was an insalata caprese. We had it with some white wine on our little patio, and life was perfect.
So imagine my amazement and joy when we spotted Obikà Mozzarella Bar just around the corner in Campo de’ Fiori! We ate lunch there Saturday, and of course it was yummy and delightful. We each sipped a glass of dry rosé and selected one of the tastings in which you choose your mozzarella—paestum (delicate), pontina (stronger), affumicata (smoked, with a very strong taste), or burrata (sweet and creamy taste)—and your accompaniments. I had burrata (divine!) with cherry tomatoes and pesto—one of the best pesto sauces I’ve ever eaten. Michael had affumicata (smoked) mozzarella with anchovies and sundried tomatoes—also delicious. We were happy campers, and we’ll go back.
On your next trip to Italy, have an insalata caprese with bufala mozzarella and a glass of dry rosé, toast the glorious Italian water buffalo, and think of me. Hmmm, I think I’ll walk up to Recafé tomorrow for lunch and toast the water buffalo myself.