You know what I love doing in the kitchen? Breaking rules. (Who am I kidding, I like doing that in many, many arenas of life besides the kitchen… it’s just especially fun when cooking.) Sure, sometimes I enjoy following a recipe to a T or embracing a culinary tradition simply because of its ties to culture and history.
But every now and then, breaking the rules of a tradition produces beautiful things. It can lead to creativity, innovation, and new flavor combinations that our taste buds have not yet experienced. It can indulge the palate and the mind. It can inspire us to dream. And so for that reason, I celebrate breaking traditions in the kitchen.
(My one exception here is if you try to convince me that gumbo can be made without a roux. In which case, I’ll kindly tell you to shut yo’ mouth because that’s not really gumbo. I know, I know…I’m a total hypocrite ;))
Well today’s recipe is what I like to think of as a version of a caprese salad. The insalata caprese originated on the island of Capri in Southern Italy and its colors mimic those of il tricolore, the Italian flag. I’m fortunate to have visited this little island twice in my life (see photo below), where I was able to indulge in a true caprese salad in Capri. The sweetness of the tomatoes, the creamy buffalo mozzarella, and the hint of spice and earth from the basil, all drizzled in a fine olive oil and sprinkled with flakey sea salt—it’s a refreshing, authentic dish that truly represents the history, culture, and ingredients of the region.
But my cute little garden tomatoes are still green, and so what do I decide to do, but break the tradition and make the salad a different way. With that said, I was able to retain the colors of the tradition and the general composition of the dish by using sweet roasted red bell peppers instead of tomatoes, creamy sheep’s milk feta in lieu of mozzarella, and freshly snipped chives for a crisp earthiness similar to what basil offers.
I topped mine with a special olive oil that I acquired in Italy (only used in certain dishes where I really want the olio to pop), freshly ground pepper, and a gorgeous smoked ghost chili pepper salt that I was lucky enough to take home with me earlier this week following a photo shoot at Jacobsen salt. Actually, it was this particular salt that inspired my initial craving for a caprese salad earlier this week. Sure, regular sea salt will do here, but if you live near an area where they carry Jacobsen salt, I really encourage you to seek some out. It truly brought a certain depth of flavor to the dish–each bite singing smokily in my mouth.
Speaking of singing, it’s been a while since I offered a musical suggestion to accompany you while you cook! For this particular post, I had all three of my Sonos Play 1s blaring my new favorite album as of late, Mini World, by a French artist named Indila. I love almost every song on this album, which is a rare thing for me, but my absolute favorites are “Dernière Danse,” “Comme un Bateau,” and “Love Story.” Give these a listen when you have a chance. You’ll be bouncing around the kitchen singing along like a true Francophone in no time…hopefully while making this very inauthentic insalata caprese.
- 2 red bell peppers
- ½ pound of feta (I used sheep’s milk feta)
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (use a high quality evoo)
- 1 bunch of chives, sliced diagonally into ½ inch pieces
- fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
- flakey sea salt, to taste (I used Jacobsen’s smoked ghost chili pepper salt for an extra umph of smokey heat!)
Place each pepper in the middle of a gas burner, turn the flame to high, and let it get all black and charred on the outside. Use a pair of tongs to rotate it as you go so that each side (besides the top, which has the stem) is evenly charred. Once it’s mostly blackened, place it directly into a paper bag for 10-15 minutes. This loosens the skin. A ziplock bag will also work, but I personally try to avoid combining heat and plastic when I cook. Remove from the bag and peel off the outer layer of the pepper. Chop the top off of the pepper, slice it into ½-inch wide strips, and de-seed the pepper using a knife.
Remove feta block from packaging and blot with a paper towel. Slice into strips that are approximately 1-inch by ½-inch.
Plate the peppers and feta, drizzle with evoo, top with chives and salt and pepper. While this item can be prepared one day in advance and refrigerated, I think it’s best when served at room temperature.