Do you find yourself craving summer dishes in the waning days of winter? I know even the thought is heresy for the hardcore adherents of seasonal cooking and eating, but what I wouldn't give right now to be eating a caprese salad of fresh mozzarella, ultra-ripe heirloom tomatoes, basil, and olive oil.
Unfortunately, the ingredients won't cooperate. You can't find a decent tomato until summer -- and late summer at that -- so, what does one do? I've made a fair alternative caprese by roasting plum tomatoes, sliced in half, seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and cooked in the oven (or toaster) until their interior is soft. Once the tomatoes have cooled, serve them either chilled or at room temperature with sliced mozzarella, and you have an almost caprese.
But, I recently discovered another way of creating caprese glory as fresh in winter as the summer original: substitute winter citrus, now at its best, for the tomatoes.
It's a combination served at Jean Georges Vongerichten's Perry St, where a fantastic composed salad is crafted from house-made mozzarella, grapefruit, clementines, and Thai basil -- basically a caprese salad with citrus playing the role of tomatoes.
I was a little skeptical of the combination when I first saw it on the menu, but maybe I shouldn't have been. After all, tomatoes are a fruit, and the citrus too plays a similarly sweet, acidic counterpoint to the fatty richness of the mozzarella.
I recreated the dish at home using fresh, cow's milk mozzarella and supremes of ruby red grapefruit, mandarin oranges, and blood oranges, along with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, cracked pepper, and sea salt. If you can get your hands on some Thai basil, all the better (it adds a seriously peppery kick), but ordinary basil will also do. The options for citrus are probably endless as well. I threw blood oranges into the mix, but why not also try tangerines, or even kumquats?
The dish is a stunning and delicious work-around for a salad I would otherwise only expect to eat months from now.
Related: For another savory citrus salad, consider Jody Williams' blood orange salad with arugula, olives, and red onions.