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VOL. 36 | NO. 36 | Friday, September 07, 2012

In warmer weather, turn to cool foods

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We are in the heat of the summer – one of the hottest on record for our little town – so other than ice cream and watermelon, here are a few recipes to keep you and the kitchen from heating up.

While perusing Taste of Home magazine this week, I saw a nifty, quick little salad recipe that would be great served alongside some grilled chops and corn-on-the-cob. It captured my attention because it happens to be one of my favorite types of salad – one made Caprese-style.

I was going to give you a recipe for making your own fresh mozzarella cheese, but then I decided that if I did that this recipe would no longer be quick and nifty. So I am just going to share with you a few things about the cheese that maybe you don’t know (other than it’s much easier to buy at the store).

Facts about mozzarella:

• Bartolomeo Scappi first discovered the word “mozzarella” in 1570 in a cookbook.

• It is often rolled up into balls of 80 to 100 grams. A 100-gram ball of Mozzarella cheese contains 22 grams of protein and 22 grams of fat.

• With low moisture content, it can be refrigerated for up to one month before it starts turning bad.

• It’s better for use on lasagna when it has been partially dried.

• Mozzarella contains high amounts of moisture, so it’s important that it’s eaten fairly quickly after it’s made.

• It is produced from milk obtained through cows or water buffalo. It originated in Italy.

• In general, the color of fresh mozzarella is white, but it might occasionally be slightly yellow, depending on the animal’s diet.

What we don’t know for sure: Legend has it that mozzarella was first made when cheese curds accidently fell into a pail of hot water in a cheese factory near Naples, and soon thereafter the first pizza was made using the newly found cheese.

What we do know for sure: Mozzarella was first made in Italy near Naples from the rich milk of water buffalos.

The story goes that Anthony and Cleopatra fell in love and spent many idyllic hours cruising the Nile on the barges pulled by water buffalo, eating sumptuous meals and feasting on cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo.

The Egyptians, seeing the passion between the two, came to regard the protein and vitamin rich cheese as a prime motivator in this mad affair. Anthony became such a lover of the cheese he sent water buffalo back to Rome as a gift to Caesar, with instructions on how to make the milk into mozzarella.

Overnight, the cheese became a staple of the Roman diet and all of Southern Italy. The breeding of the water buffalo became a passion in the area between Rome and Naples. Over the centuries, the wholesomeness of the produce sustained the Italian people and could not be duplicated anywhere else.

The story above sounds pretty “cheesy,” don’t you think? Anyway, the best and most highly prized, artisanal-produced buffalo mozzarella is still found south of Naples near Battipaglia and Caserta.

This recipe is a little from the magazine and a little from me, meaning I modified it somewhat to better suit my taste. Hope you enjoy! It’s yummy!

Fresh Mozzarella, Avocado and Tomato Salad

For the vinaigrette:

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons dark brown sugar, optional

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup olive oil

For the salad:

6-7 plum tomatoes, chopped

16 ounces small, fresh mozzarella cheese balls, drained and then cut in half

1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped

2 medium ripe avocados, peeled and chopped

1 large lemon, juiced

Make the vinaigrette by whisking the vinegar in a bowl with the sugar, garlic, salt and pepper until sugar and salt dissolves. Then drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, cheese and basil. Place in refrigerator until ready to serve. Just before serving, in small bowl, chop avocados and toss with lemon juice. Add to salad; drizzle on the vinaigrette.