Last Monday night was an all-round great evening. The subject, from 5:30 until 10:30, was food. Very, very good food. We started the evening at Nancy Silverton/Mario Batali’s Pizzeria Mozza, and since there were 7 of us we tasted 7 different pizzas. And yes, the fuss is accurate and deserved — the pizza is deeply good. Then we saw Julie & Julia at the Arclight Cinema in Hollywood, and both the movie and the theater itself were also deeply good (especially all things Meryl Streep). You reserve in advance at the Arclight, are seated by an usher, and very kindly admonished by the same usher to silence cell phones and mouths during the movie. Ahhhh. I may be spoiled forever for pizza and movie theaters.
But back to Pizzeria Mozza. We started the meal with a different take on a standby, caprese, which I resisted because I make it at home with some regularity. And now that my home-grown tomatoes are ripe and I’ve found some amazing mozzarella at the creaky (I mean really creaky) little Italian store down the hill, I was trying to hold it off. But caprese fans will out, and the thing was ordered.
I got a tiny bite of it but it was delicious. The hot roasted tomatoes plopped right onto the mozzarella begin to soften the cheese but leave behind its slight tang. The basil, instead of chopped and sprinkled on top, was pureed with olive oil and drizzled over the mozzarella, making it even easier to mop up the goods with some bread. And that is one of the great pleasures of the last bites of caprese: the mozzarella gives off a little briny “milk,” which mixes with the oil which mixes with the tomato which you try to dab up with a hint of basil. Here it’s making its own soup for you.
This is my take on Mozza’s caprese — and a new way to visit an old friend. Look for the freshest mozzarella you can find, and some really good bread to go with it. After all, Nancy Silverton is the woman behind all that bread at La Brea Bakery. And some of us need something good to go with our bread.
Roasted Tomato Caprese Served Warm | 6 hearty servings
1 pound little tomatoes, such as cherry, pear, little heirloom, mixed varieties
25 to 30 basil leaves, about 5 large sprigs
3 tablespoons olive oil
Small pinch salt
Small pinch sugar
Small squeeze of lemon
1 pound fresh mozzarella
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 275°F. Wash the tomatoes and dry thoroughly. Place them on a large baking sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Rub the oil over the tomatoes and sprinkle with sea salt.
While the tomatoes are roasting, lightly rinse the basil and shake it dry. Chop coarsely.
If you have an immersion blender or a mini food processor, put the chopped basil along with the oil, salt, sugar, and lemon in the cylinder or bowl and puree until fine.
A regular-sized blender or food processor is too big for this job, so if you don’t have a little machine, simply chop the basil until its very fine and mix it with the salt, sugar and lemon.
Slice the mozzarella into rounds and arrange on a plate.
Drizzle with the pureed basil, top with hot tomatoes, and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.
And pass the bread, please.