A man was living in Italy, doing some volunteer work. He had a particularly trying day and decided to visit a friend. The friend could immediately tell that this man had a rough day and asked the young volunteer to describe how he was feeling. The young man described his feelings of frustration, burnout and sadness. The Italian man went to his kitchen and cooked a meal, which the young man ate and immediately felt better.
The young man pursued a degree in culinary arts, and became a culinary arts instructor. He was actually my culinary arts instructor, and he told me this story when I asked him how he “got into food.” My instructor told me, to this day, that meal is the best he’s ever had. Not because it was anything special – roasted chicken and vegetables. What made this meal great was that someone who cared about him made this meal to address his emotions. It was simply prepared, and comforting.
I’ve always remembered this story. It taught me that food doesn’t need to be flashy and trendy to make someone happy. It just needs to show someone that you care about them. That you took the time to make this meal special, in some way, and you thought about them as you made it.
The caprese salad is a perfect example of this. It is so simple, but anyone you make it for will immediately feel special. Here’s what you need:
8oz Ball of good quality, whole milk mozzarella
Large, ripe slicing tomatoes – I prefer heirloom variety for this salad, but use what you can get
Fresh Basil leaves, cut into ribbons
Fruity, good quality extra-virgin olive oil
Good balsamic vinegar (I buy mine here because it’s affordable and quite good)
Freshly ground black pepper
Slice the tomato and mozzarella into pieces about 3/8-1/2 inch thick. Layer how you want. I find 3 slices of tomato and 2 slices of mozzarella is the perfect size for 1 person (assuming the salad is a starter and they’ll be eating something else as well). Lay your basil ribbons across the top of the tomato and cheese, then drizzle with the oil and vinegar. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper, and badda-bing:
I’ve seen a lot of these salads where they add the basil leaves whole. If you wanna do that, do it. I like to cut it up because it’s a lot easier to eat, and only a little less pretty. For me, the trade off is worth it.
Obviously this is a very Italian dish, so it goes best with an Italian entree. I’ve found the best entree for this is a simple spaghetti tossed with garlic, olive oil and maybe some grilled Italian sausage. If you’re wanting a recipe for that dish, I just gave it to you. It’s literally that easy. Spaghetti, boiled. Olive oil and minced garlic in a pan to warm it (don’t cook it – just let it warm a little). Grilled Italian sausage, sliced. Tossed all together. Boom, dinner.
So next time you’re wanting to make a special meal for someone, don’t think it has to be something crazy difficult. Sometimes the best meal is one prepared simply, with a special person in mind.