This tart, with its crisp phyllo base, ripe tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, is dead easy to make and quite delicious as a light lunch or quick snack.
The idea for this tart came to me because I am trying to convince my 9-year-old daughter to like tomatoes. She usually picks them out of a salad, or off the top of a pizza, although she tolerates them in sandwiches. But I don't want her merely to tolerate them; I want her to adore them, as I do!
Caprese Salad is, I think, one of the world's greatest salads, least of all because it's so incredibly simple, and because the combination of flavours is, in a word, sublime.
I knew my daughter wouldn't go for the raw tomatoes, so I thought I'd pizzafy the salad. The pizzafication worked: she ate the tomatoes.
The mozzarella in this photograph isn't real Italian mozzarella but the South African equivalent, which is rubbery and, when melted, super-stringy.
The only producer of authentic Buffalo milk mozzarella in this country is Wayne Rademeyer of Buffalo Ridge in Wellington. His cheese is just gorgeous, but at around R70 for a small tub, way too pricey to eat often. Buffalo Ridge mozzarella is available from Cheese Gourmet in Linden, and also stocked by Melissa's and by Giovanni's in Cape Town.
If you can find vine-ripened plum tomatoes (unlike the supermarket tomatoes I used here) use those. This is also good with sweet cherry tomatoes.
I don't think this salad needs anything else but a glass of crisp and very cold white wine. Definitely no rocket or garlic.
Hot Caprese Salad on Phyllo Pastry
6 sheets of phyllo pastry
a little melted butter or olive oil, or a mixture, for brushing
8 ripe tomatoes
500 g mozzarella (I used Simonsberg, which comes in a cylinder shape)
fresh, small basil leaves
flaky sea salt and milled black pepper
Preheat the oven to 160° C. Using a pastry brush, brush the bottom and sides of a shallow baking tray with the butter or oil. Add a sheet of phyllo pastry, allowing the edges to drape over the rim of the tray. Use your fingers to press the pastry into the corners, and brush the sheet generously with butter. Continue layering and brushing the pastry sheets until you have used up all six. Gently press the pastry to squeeze any air pockets towards the edges. Cover with a damp tea towel. Using a razor-sharp knife, top and tail the tomatoes and slice thinly. Cut the mozzarella into thin slices (if you're using a cylinder-shaped piece of mozzarella, cut it in half lengthways first. Slice, then use your fingers to ease each slice back into a semi-circle (the cutting will have squashed it).
Set out layered stripes of the tomato, mozzarella and basil on the phyllo pastry base, as shown in the second photograph. Sprinkle with sea salt and a good grinding of milled black pepper, and sprinkle with olive oil. Bake at 160° C for 10 to 15 minutes, checking every five minutes to make sure that pastry isn't catching. Remove from the oven and cut into squares using a sharp knife or a circular pizza-cutting knife.
Serves 8-10 as a snack or starter; 6 as a main course.
- Another way to serve this tart would be to bake the case for about 10 minutes, then arrange the uncooked ingredients on top. To prevent the pastry from puffing up too much in the oven, bake it blind: cover with a piece of greaseproof paper or tin foil and weigh down with lentils or beans for the first five minutes of cooking.
- You can use a pair of scissors to trim the edges of the pastry (or round the corners; see photo above) if they look too scruffy.