The Revisionist Caprese Salad
Few things (eating notwithstanding) provide greater pleasure than taking an established dish and spinning it, ever so slightly, to the left. The resulting dish will play by the rules of the original, while reinventing itself within these distinct parameters. In this world, what was once an appetizer salad can now be dessert.
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
½ teaspoon orange zest
1 cup heavy cream
2 large egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
½ cup finely chopped or shredded fresh buffalo mozzarella, plus four thinly sliced discs of buffalo mozzarella, about ¼ inch thick and 2 inches in diameter.
½ cup whole milk
½ cup sugar
1 tomato (heirloom if possible—if not, any good tomato will do), sliced thinly to about ¼-inch thickness.
1 cup tomato simple syrup (recipe follows)
1 cup tomato water (recipe follows)
3 cups sugar
For the basil ice cream:
In a small saucepan, combine approximately half the basil, the orange zest, and the cream. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat. Cover and steep for 45 minutes. Using your kitchen facilities, make an ice water bath. You can, quite simply, stop up your kitchen sink, add about six inches of cold water (water level will depend on the height of your saucepan—you certainly don’t want any water creeping into your ice cream mixture), and a bit of ice. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks together with ¼ cup of sugar. After the ice cream mixture has steeped, bring, once again, to a boil. In order to temper the eggs (a process which prevents the eggs from scrambling), very slowly pour in some of the hot cream mixture to the egg bowl, while simultaneously whisking the beaten eggs. Then, pour the tempered eggs from the bowl into the cream saucepan, and cook, stirring often for an additional minute or two, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove the saucepan from the heat and place in the ice water bath, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is cool. Add the mixture to a food processor and blend thoroughly with the other half of the fresh basil. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pour into an ice cream machine, and freeze. Store in an airtight container in the freezer until ready to use. If you have some leftover, it would go perfectly with your forthcoming sweet strawberry ravioli dessert.
For the mozzarella syrup:
Combine the mozzarella, milk, and ½ cup of sugar in a small saucepan and bring slowly to a boil. Remove from the heat and puree the cheese into the liquid with an immersion blender. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, add the mixture to a regular blender, puree, and return to the saucepan. Cover the saucepan and steep for 45 minutes. Return the mixture to medium heat and let steam (but not boil) for an additional 3-5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer. Let cool at room temperature.
For the oven-dried sweet tomato:
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Dip each tomato slice in the tomato simple syrup and place onto a baking rack over a baking sheet pan. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, flip the tomatoes and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until the tomatoes have caramelized dried. Cool at room temperature. Reserve the remaining tomato syrup at room temperature until the dish is plated.
For the tomato rock candy:
In a small saucepan, combine the tomato water and 1 ½ cups of sugar. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring often, and boil until the sugar dissolves. Add the remaining 1 ½ cups of sugar and continue to stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes at room temperature, then pour the mixture into a large sturdy drinking glass or glass jar. Meanwhile, tie a few lengths of string along a pencil. The string should be about ½ the height of the glass or jar. Balance the pencil over the mouth of the glass or jar so the ends of the strings hang in the mixture. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 24 hours or up to a week (the longer you wait, the larger the rock candy crystals). Strip the crystals from the strings. If you have more than you can use for this recipe, save for a late night indulgence.
To make the tomato simple syrup:
Combine 1 cup tomato water with 1 cup sugar (or, in other words, equal parts sugar and tomato water, depending on the yield you desire). Stir. Bring to a boil in a medium saucepan, remove from the heat, and let stand at room temperature until cool. Store the leftover syrup in the refrigerator.
To make the tomato water:
For approximately 2 cups of tomato water, puree about 10-15 good large tomatoes in a food processor with a small pinch of salt. Spoon the puree into an adequately sized piece of cheesecloth and tie it up. Suspend a strainer over a large bowl, place the tied-up cheesecloth into the strainer and set in the refrigerator overnight, or until the juice has dripped from the tomatoes into the bowl. You can save the tomato solids for a homemade vegetable stock. Store the tomato water in the refrigerator (it should keep for about a week, but the leftovers can be frozen).
Dip each slice of buffalo mozzarella into the tomato syrup. Place a slice at the center of each plate. With a small ice cream scoop, place a sphere of basil ice cream on top of the mozzarella slice (the scoop of ice cream should just cover the mozzarella). Top the basil ice cream with a slice of oven-dried sweet tomato. Spoon a small amount of mozzarella syrup around the plate. Float a few crystals of the tomato rock candy in the syrup.