Walking down Via Camerelle on Italy’s Capri island once, I saw a statuesque woman with wavy golden-brown hair and flawless bronze skin. She was looking through a shop window, perhaps contemplating whether she had room in her long, slender arms to carry one more shopping bag.
She looked elegant and effortlessly put-together in her white shirt, white Capri pants (of course!), and dark, movie-star sunglasses. I see there’s a black bathing suit string peeking out from under her open collar, and a single charm necklace adorned her graceful, swan-like neck. I was immediately jealous of her beauty and of the fabulous life that she must have.
And since I love to make up stories in my head, I decided that she was either a jet-setting model, actress, or contessa, who keeps a lovely villa on Via Tragara, overlooking the dazzling Bay of Naples and those Faraglioni rocks. She spends her day taking care of business and doing some shopping (day time in the island is for tourists, after all), but it’s really at night when she comes alive. She and her dashing lover will rendezvous at the bar of Hotel Quisisana, where they’ll have a drink or two. With red-painted lips, she’ll sip her Quisi Royale – a purée of pesca (peach) and fragole (strawberry) with Laurent Perrier Champagne. He, in turn, will quaff his 250-Euro Remy Martin Louis XVIII Cognac with a debonair flair. Oh, the night is still young and one thing might lead to another…but she will worry about that tomorrow!
So, the story in my head ends there, but now, I am found wanting for a taste that reminds me of Southern Italy’s l’isola bella, Capri. Rumour has it that the famous salad of tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella), and basil leaves – Insalata Caprese – was born here. Naturally, all the local trattorie and ristoranti over there make it a point to remind you of that!
Today, I felt like I wanted to take a trip back to Capri, so I imagined myself perched on a rustic table by the spiaggia at Marina Piccola, as I did one summer. I see some boats loading passengers eager to head out to the popular tourist attraction, La Grotta Azzura. These people here know one secret locals guard with their life: never take a boat out from the crowded Marina Grande! In a few minutes after the boat leaves, it’s just going to be me and a bottle of San Pellegrino with a plate of heavenly Caprese. And this is what I bite into…
Traditionally, Italians made their Caprese with buffalo mozzarella (from Campagna), but I only had burrata (from Puglia) at home, so that’ll do! My specialty grocer flies them in to Toronto once a week, every Tuesday, from Puglia, Italy (see the label)!
I gathered from Italian friends also that sour cream (here, used to make the biscuits) is not a typical ingredient that can be found in local markets, especially in a tiny island on the Amalfi Coast. But like most resourceful Italians, they can make their own homemade sour cream, which they call panna acida (click here to learn how to make it).
I envisioned myself living the charmed life of Signora Capri, as I ate one morsel after another, and then another, of these Caprese bites. Yes, I added some smoked Speck ham, and I used basil caviar (pesto), and I plopped them atop sour cream biscuits. Hardly traditional. But you know what? Sometimes, I don’t feel like being boring and following any rules. I’m sure Signora Capri – she there with the golden-brown hair and flawless bronze skin – didn’t get to where she is now by being boring and following rules!
- ~~ For the sour cream biscuits ~~
- 1 cup + 1 tablespoon (150 g) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) cold butter, cut into pieces
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 5 tablespoons sour cream or panna acida*
- 1 egg + 1 more egg for brushing
- ~~ For assembling the Caprese bites ~~
- 5 Roma tomatoes or hot-house tomatoes, preferably organic, sliced
- 1 cup (200 g) fresh mozzarella di bufala or burrata, sliced
- few slices of Speck or prosciutto, cut
- ½ cup basil pesto, preferably homemade
- good quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 C)
- Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
- Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
- Stir together the sugar, sour cream (panna acida), and 1 egg.
- Combine into the dry ingredients to form a smooth dough. Press the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone mat.
- Roll our the dough in a lightly floured surface to ¼-inch (5 mm) thick. Use your choice of cookie cutter (it should be bigger than your tomatoes) to cut out the biscuits. Gather the dough scraps and re-roll and continue cutting as needed.
- Use a spatula to transfer the biscuits to the cookie sheet, spacing them at least 1 inch apart.
- Beat the remaining egg and brush over the tops of the cookies.
- Bake until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Transfer to a rack and let cool.
- To assemble, start with the sour creme biscuits at the bottom, followed by the sliced tomatoes, followed by fresh mozzarella or burrata, then add a slice of Speck or prosciutto, and finally, a dollop of pesto. Drizzle with olive oil, if desired.