Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Colors of Italy on Capri

The tempting tricolore of insalata caprese : ripe red tomatoes, pearly white mozzarella, and fresh green basil
Capri, the divinely picturesque island getaway in the Gulf of Naples in southern Italy, sums up la dolce vita. Well known to the ancient Romans, who built sumptuous imperial villas on its spectacular headlands, Capri also spells meal after memorable meal. Its simple but delicious summertime signature dish, insalata caprese, is now prepared the world over.

A surprisingly rugged mountainous island with sheer limestone cliffs rearing out of the crystal-clear Mediterranean, Capri has a remarkably temperate climate. Its pleasant winters suit the cultivation of citrus fruits, both lemons and sweet oranges. Hot summers tempered by sea breezes encourage grapevines that produce superb red and white wines. In the island’s villages, charming houses are surrounded by gorgeous gardens that overflow with all manner of exotic plants, from palm trees to vividly colored bougainvillea.
Picture-postcard Capri has attracted huge numbers of visitors for centuries, from fleets of day-trippers and cruise ship passengers to the international jet set and royalty. It was probably for the latter that the island’s signature salad with its three colors – the red, white, and green of the Italian flag – was invented.
Insalata caprese is a simple spread of thick slices of fresh tomato alternated with mozzarella cheese. It is important that both the main ingredients be at room temperature, not chilled, so that their individual flavors are brought out. A little salt may be added to the tomato, but only just before serving to ensure that it stays firm. Aromatic fresh basil with its strong oily perfume is a crucial addition, either as whole leaves or torn or chopped, depending on the school of thought, and the whole is given a light drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Sometimes oregano and olives are added for extra fragrance and flavor.
The town of Anacapri is watched over by a statue of Caesar Augustus, first of the Roman emperors
The dish was eulogized by the Italian Futurist movement of the early 20th century for its lightness and flavor, in contrast to the ubiquitous starchy pasta they rejected as far too heavy for a modern diet in the industrial age. (Legend has it that Egypt’s King Farouk, while vacationing on the island, managed to buck this healthy trend by having his insalata caprese served as the filling in his toasted sandwiches.) For a dish this light, fresh, and simple to succeed, the ingredients must be of superb quality – especially the cheese. The finest mozzarella, made from buffalo milk, has to travel from the mainland region of Campania, just across the water.

Water buffalo, whose milk is used to produce the finest mozzarella cheese
But few would disagree that insalata caprese tastes best of all on the lovely island on which it was invented.

The Best Places to Eat Insalata Caprese

Ristorante Villa Verde
Discreetly tucked out of the way down a quiet alleyway a short stroll from Capri’s central Piazzetta, this smart restaurant has its fair share of suntanned VIP guests, whose photos adorn the walls of the entrance. A courtyard garden fringed by trees enables alfresco dining in candlelight. The insalata caprese comes on a vast white platter, with overlapping layers of luscious mozzarella, thickly cut, alongside piles of rich red tomato rounds. Giant dark green olives, whole basil leaves, a sprinkling of oregano, and a splash of olive oil are the finishing touches. Similar high-quality ingredients are used for the restaurant’s pizzas, baked in a wood-fired oven to guarantee that authentic smoky tang. Seafood also ranks high on the menu, with daily specials depending on availability. The fried moscardini, tender baby octopus, melt in your mouth. The bulging wine cellar is well stocked with bottles from the key regions of Italy as well as Spain and Australia.
Vico Sella Orto 6, Capri town; open noon–4 PM & 7 PM–1 AM daily;
Also on Capri
Down narrow Via Lo Palazzo in downtown Capri, down-to-earth Verginiello (+39 81 8370944; inexpensive) bustles nonstop as heavily laden waiters dash from the animated kitchen to the spacious, panoramic dining room.
Excellent-value Neapolitan dishes include linguine malafemmina, with tomato, anchovies, capers, and black olives, while fresh ingredients are showcased in salads such as the caprese.
Also in Italy
In Alberobello in Puglia, snug beneath the ancient stone arches and vaults of a 1700s olive press, Ristorante Casanova (www.; inexpensive) makes good use of fresh mozzarella and its twin burrata, a similar but richer cheese.
Both are served alongside salamis as antipasti. The typical local dishes feature fava beans and broccoli.
Rest of the World
Buffalo mozzarella sourced from an organic farm in the UK goes into the insalata caprese served at the Ristorante Carpaccio in London (; moderate).
The mouthwatering menu also offers a unique range of carpaccio, with ultra-thin slices of ox tongue, smoked duck, and octopus, among others. The cuisine is basically Italian but with a creative twist, so the frittura mista di pesce (a platter of mixed, fried fish) comes with a sweet and sour condiment.
What Else to Eat
With a bounty of fresh seasonal produce from land and sea, Capri and the Amalfi Coast have plenty for gourmet visitors. Order ravioli alla caprese, luscious rounds of pasta filled with moist caciotta cheese blended with egg, and dressed with a light sauce of tomato and herbs.
Otherwise go for gnocchi alla sorrentina, tiny potato dumplings smothered in a smooth cheesy sauce with a hint of tomato. Totani are tender squid, which are stewed slowly and deliciously with potatoes. This part of Italy is famed for its lemons, which grow to gargantuan size, and on the dessert front, one landmark is delizia al limone, a heavenly, frothy cream of lemon with egg white. A superb conclusion to any meal is a slender frosted glass of cold Limoncello liqueur, a delicious, tingly after-dinner drink made with lemon rind steeped in alcohol.
Three Days in and around Capri
Stunningly beautiful views and spectacular sights are everywhere here, demanding to be admired from land, sea, and mountaintop.
DAY ONE  : Take a morning boat trip around the island to see the cliffs and fantastic rock formations such as the Faraglioni rock stacks. If the tide is right, boatmen will row you into the splendid recesses of the Blue Grotto. An easy afternoon walk from Capri town leads to Villa Jovis, former vacation home of the Roman emperor Tiberius.
DAY TWO :  From Anacapri take the dizzying chairlift up Monte Solaro to the brilliant belvedere and café. Afterward, take the bus to the landmark Faro lighthouse and enjoy a swim at the small beach.
DAY THREE : Make a full-day boat trip to the mainland, to Sorrento and around the peninsula to the spectacular Amalfi Coast. Here the pastel-colored houses of Positano cascade down the mountainside to a beautiful bay. Surrounded by terraced lemon groves, Amalfi nestles at sea level, its majestic black-and-white-checkered duomo dominating narrow alleyways dating back to Norman and Arab times.

The town of Anacapri is watched over by a statue of Caesar Augustus, first of the Roman emperors
Getting to Capri
Fast hydrofoils and ferries from Naples and Sorrento run many times a day all year round.
Once there, a funicular climbs to the town itself, and orange buses make the trip to Anacapri and around the island.
Where to stay in Capri
Pensione La Tosca (moderate) is a peaceful, welcoming little hotel with a beautiful terrace.
Villa Eva (moderate), just out of Anacapri, has a pretty garden, swimming pool, and panoramic views from the terraces.
Hotel Tragara (expensive) is luxurious, with breathtaking views over the Faraglioni rock stacks.
Capri Harbor; +39 81 837 0686

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