Recently I had the chance to visit Italy, and I did my best to eat as much fresh mozzarella as possible. You see it served at every meal. In Southern Italy, near the island of Capri, you’ll even see Caprese salad for breakfast. Beautiful, sweet summer tomatoes paired with rich, creamy fresh mozzarella and a few sprigs of basil – it truly is flavor perfection.
Back home, whenever I want to recreate that amazing Italian memory, all I need to do is go to FRESH and grab BelGioioso mozzarella cheese. Created by Errico Auricchio in 1979, he moved his family from Italy to the Wisconsin – America’s dairyland – where he had dreams of creating the best Italian cheeses in the U.S. He brought with him two master cheesemakers to help carry out the legacy that began with his great-grandfather in Italy. He started with Provolone, Parmesan and Romano and once the market began to grow, they introduced Mascarpone, Mozzarella, Gorgonzola and more.
This month at FRESH we’ve teamed up with BelGioioso for MozzaPalooza – a summer celebration of Mozzarella cheese. It really is the perfect summer ingredient. It’s cool, creamy and delicious to eat on its own or easy to melt with very little heat. BelGioioso mozzarella is available in the charcuterie cheese case in several shapes and sizes, look for logs that are presliced, large traditional balls, small pearls and burrata.
I must admit, I grew up eating grated mozzarella from the bag in all the Italian dishes my mom used to make. Then I learned about fresh mozzarella and I never looked back. It melts perfectly on pizza, is so creamy in lasagna and has the perfect texture and mild flavor to go in salads and sandwiches. It’s also a great blending cheese. When making a cheese sauce, often sharp cheeses like aged cheddar and Parmesan do not melt well because their moisture content is low. The result will be goopy and grainy with a sharp flavor. When you add in a cheese like mozzarella, with a high moisture content and mild flavor, it brings a creamy texture and balances the flavor. Mozzarella also serves as a blank slate for many flavors. Its spongey texture absorbs flavor so well that it takes on a whole new identity when marinated in oil, herbs, vinegar or even honey.
In this recipe for Caprese Panzanella Salad, I added the mozzarella pearls so they would be a contrasting texture to the crunchy bread, but also soak in the vinegar, olive oil and juices from the tomatoes. Panzanella is an Italian salad created to use up stale bread. It was a peasant dish and designed to use whatever was on hand. The bread would soften after tossing it with oil and vinegar and other vegetables would also be added. It almost always contains tomatoes, but other popular ingredients include olives, chopped salami, sliced onions and capers.
Caprese Panzanella Salad
- 4 cups FRESH Italian bread, 1 inch cubes (Ciabbata or Tuscan)
- 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, plus 1/3 cup
- 1 Tbs Italian seasoning
- 1 (10 oz) pkg grape tomatoes, halved
- 10 basil leaves, torn
- 1/2 pkg Belgioioso Mozzarella pearls
- 2 Tbs red wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon each, salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup Belgioioso shaved Parmesan
Place bread cubes in a large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and Italian seasoning. Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the bread cubes and cook until lightly toasted. Remove to a baking sheet and let cool completely.
Once cool, add the bread, tomatoes, basil and mozzarella to a bowl. Whisk together remaining olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pour over the bread mixture and toss to coat. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving. Top with the Parmesan before serving. Garnish with additional basil.