As summer winds down, I invariably notice my appetite will start adapting to the shift in weather almost immediately. In that brief span of time in early fall, before the nights cool down and the leaves change color, I’ll find myself craving a crisp, refreshing salad one night and a much heartier meal the next.
This salad takes the best of the season and puts a fresh spin on the classic Italian Caprese salad of plump, sweet tomatoes, fragrant basil, and pillow-y mozzarella. Tossed with smoky grilled eggplant, it makes for a more substantial, satisfying dish.
Making homemade mozzarella is not as difficult as you may think, but it does take a little patience and time. If you can procure fresh, raw milk, definitely do so. Though the temperature and time involved in the heating process renders out some of the health benefits of raw milk, it is not at all a pasteurization process—and the final product will be far superior than cheese made with pasteurized milk. Of course, you may always use store-bought mozzarella (in brine) if time and energy are a concern.
Yields approximately one pound
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
- ¼ rennet tablet, or ¼ teaspoon liquid rennet
- 1½ teaspoons citric acid
- 1 gallon whole, unpasteurized milk
- ¼–½ teaspoon salt (to taste), plus 2 tablespoons salt for brine
- 2 tablespoons whey (reserve while cooking)
- 1 quart cold water
Special equipment: thermometer, clean rubber gloves
- Fill a large pot about halfway with water. Bring to a simmer on the stovetop. In a small bowl, place rennet in ¼ cup of cool water. Set aside.
- In another small bowl, dilute citric acid in ½ cup cool water. Pour this into a pot large enough to hold the gallon of milk. Next, add the milk and stir well. (The milk will begin to curdle.)
- Place the pot with the milk into the sink, then fill the sink with very hot water. Stir, testing the temperature frequently, until the milk reaches 100°F. Alternately, you may heat the milk on the stovetop—but watch it very carefully, so it doesn’t get too hot.
- Remove milk from heat. Add the diluted rennet. Stir very well, with an up and down motion. Set aside, letting it sit undisturbed for 5 minutes. By now the milk should have separated into curd and whey. If not, wait another 5 minutes.
- While it’s still in the pot, cut the curd into 1-inch squares using a long knife. Let rest for 5 minutes. Fill the sink with a fresh batch of very hot water. With a slotted spoon, scoop curds from whey and place in a colander. Immerse the pot containing the whey into the sink of hot water. Rest the colander on top. This will allow the whey to drain off while keeping the curd warm. Add salt to taste. Fold the curd over on itself to help more whey drain off. The more you work the curd now, the drier your final product will be. Important: You will need to reserve 2 tablespoons of whey for the brine.
- Stretching the cheese: Test the temperature of the water on the stovetop. Add enough cold water to reach 175°F. The liquid will be too hot for your hands, so you’ll need to use rubber gloves or a slotted spoon to stretch the cheese. Break cheese curd into small pieces (1–2 inches) and place in the hot water. Work the curd quickly at this point—press them together and fold them over using your hands or the slotted spoon. As the curd begins to meld together, pull it from the hot water and stretch it with your hands. If it doesn’t stretch, submerge in the hot water for a minute or two and try again. It will be quite lumpy at first, but will smooth out with stretching. If you notice it starts to tear, place back in water to warm up again. Once it forms a solid mass and stretches like taffy, your cheese is ready to form into a ball.
- Make a brine with 2 tablespoons salt, 2 tablespoons reserved whey, and 1 quart cold water. Place mozzarella ball in brine. Use immediately, or store in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Grilled Eggplant Caprese Salad
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
- 1 medium eggplant, sliced ¾ inch thick
- 2–3 cups assorted cherry tomatoes, or 2 large tomatoes
- 4 ozs. fresh mozzarella
- 1 handful fresh basil
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Balsamic or red wine vinegar (optional)
- Sea salt and cracked pepper
- Preheat the grill to high. Drizzle eggplant with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Grill until charred and tender. Transfer to a plate to cool.
- Place eggplant in the bottom of a serving dish. Scatter tomatoes on top, then mozzarella, then basil. Drizzle with olive oil and, if desired, vinegar. Season liberally with cracked pepper and a sprinkle of salt. Serve at room temperature.
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
- chemical- and hormone-free meat
- wild-caught fish
- pasture-raised, organic eggs
- whole, unrefined grains
- virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
- whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
- pure, clean, spring water
- sea salt
- raw and/or cultured milk and cream products