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La Caprese

Do you remember Homer’s story The Odyssey, when Odysseus ties himself to his ship’s mast in order to not succumb to the call of the Sirens?

Reportedly, Odysseus was near the dramatic cliffs of the south coast of Isola di Capri, the fabulous isle located in Italy’s Bay of Naples, when the enchanting Sirens tried to lure him into those cliffs as they had many a sailor.

A different delicacy from that part of Italy, mozzarella di bufala, has been calling out to us lately, and unlike Odysseus we have succumbed with little restraint.

La Caprese, which takes its name from Isola di Capri is a classic dish that can be used as an appetizer or a second course.  Good mozzarella and flavorful tomatoes are a must.

Ingredients
Mozzarella
Tomatoes
Basil
Olive Oil
Salt
Ground black pepper

Slice your mozzarella 1/4″ thick.  Do the same to your tomatoes.  Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella, one overlapping  another, on a large plate.  Use a kitchen scissors to snip small pieces of basil, and sprinkle them liberally over the tomatoes and mozzarella.  Salt liberally, and grind black pepper on top.  Drizzle plenty of good extra-virgin olive on top.   Enjoy with good, crusty bread.

We paired our Caprese with a wine from the Campania region, where mozzarella di bufala is also from.   Fiano di Avellino is a white wine with a bright acidity.  The Fiano grape grows in the area’s volcanic soils, giving the wine a distinctive minerality.

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Tonno e Fagioli

Too hot to cook!  103° degrees Farenheit (nearly 40° Celcius) in Minneapolis today, and dinner needed to be something simple and light.

Tonno e fagioli, which our boys call Tuna-Bean Salad in English, was our answer.  The tuna and beans provide texture and substance, while the lemon juice, green onions and parsley add a light, fresh flavor to the salad.

Ingredients
4 5-oz. cans tuna in olive oil (not in water)
2 19-oz. cans of Cannellini beans
3 green onions, chopped
1 bunch of flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
Olive oil
Salt

Drain the excess oil off of the tuna, and place it into a large salad bowl.  Strain and rinse the Cannellini beans well.  Add the beans to the tuna in the salad bowl.  Add the chopped green onions, the parsley, the juice of two lemons and 3-4 generous pinches of salt.  Add enough extra virgin olive oil to render the salad moist, approximately 1/4 cup.  Stir until the salad is mixed well and the tuna has broken into small pieces, taking care to not damage the beans.  Let stand for 10 minutes, and serve.

Go the extra mile to find tuna packed in olive oil – it makes a difference.  Our favorite brand is Genova Tonno, which we find at Cub.  Any brand of Cannellini beans will work fine.  Don’t try to substitute other white beans, however.

Pollo alla Griglia e Insalata di Rucola e Pomodorini

June 2 was the 150th celebration of the Festa della Repubblica Italiana, a national holiday commemorating the birth of Italy as a democratic nation.  It was on this date in 1946 when Italians flooded to the polls to vote for a republic form of government over a monarchy,  marking the fall Fascism and the exile of the reigning Savoia family to Switzerland.

Heads of state from all over the world were in Rome today to celebrate this event.  Among the events scheduled for them was a pranzo at Palazzo del Quirinale, home of the President of the Italian Republic.  I wonder what was on the menu?

We held our own celebration here at home with an appetizer of Taleggio and Roquefort cheese with blueberries, chicken on the grill, and arugula and cherry tomato salad.

Taleggio, made from cow’s milk, is one of the oldest Italian soft cheeses.  It has a mild flavor and creamy texture, which is wonderful spread on crackers.   Taleggio stands in contrast to Roquefort, a strong, tangy French blue cheese made from goat’s milk.

Chicken on this grill is an easy favorite of ours.  Buy a whole chicken in pieces, remove the skin, and once on the grill splash on a marinade of olive oil, wine, rosemary, garlic and salt.  See the Methods section for more information on the marinade.

The highlight of this meal, however, was the arugula and cherry tomato salad.  I’d had arugula on my mind every since reading a StarTribune article about fresh arugula available at a local farmer’s market.  Stefano’s mom used to grow arugula at her house by the sea, and we’d eat it all summer long.  This salad is one of the simplest and most delicious ways to serve arugula.  The sweet and tangy cherry tomatoes balance the sharp, peppery flavor of the arugula, while the olive oil adds a smooth, earthy flavor that pulls it all together.

If you can’t obtain fresh grown arugula, store-bought works just fine.  Add arugula to a salad bowl.  Throw in quartered or halved cherry tomatoes.  Sprinkle sea salt liberally over the salad, and drizzle plenty of olive oil on top.  Stir with salad tongs, and serve.