One of the best treats on the hot days of high summer is having lunch on our cool, shady verandah with its wonderful views over the Abruzzo countryside.
But the last thing either of us wants to do is spend too long in the kitchen, when all we really fancy is something simple and delicious to eat – and quick to prepare. That’s why this recipe – which literally takes about 5 minutes from start to finish – has become something of a go-to favourite.
Here’s what you need:
– a ball of fresh Buffalo Mozzarella weighing about 200g
– two or three tomatoes, ideally different varieties
– about a teaspoon of fresh Oregano leaves. Not too much or the flavour can be overpowering.
– about 100g of Guanciale. Or 4 rashers of unsmoked streaky bacon.
– two not-too-thick slices of sourdough bread
– a fresh or dried red chilli (optional)
– extra-virgin olive oil
The odds are that if you live in Italy, you know what Guanciale is, and are able to buy it easily. If you don’t, it needs a little explanation.
Guanciale is pork cheek. A key ingredient of Spaghetti Carbonara. Sliced not-too-thinly and fried, it crisps-up beautifully, with a rich depth of flavour. I’ve never seen it outside Italy. Then again, before I came to Italy, I’d never heard of it. Ask your butcher for pork cheek and see where it gets you.
If the answer to that is a blank look, then change your butcher. But before you give the present incumbent the heave-ho, give him a the parting gift of an order of the four slices of unsmoked streaky.
In a hot pan, fry that – or the Guanciale – until it’s crispy and while that’s going on, toast the bread and slice the tomatoes.
One of Italy’s insoluble mysteries at this time of year is why grocery shops and markets outside the big cities are crammed full of tart, tangy tomatoes when nigh-on everyone grows their own.
Three varieties to be precise; a cherry tomato called Sungold; a tiny Italian plum variety called Lucciola; and an unnamed ‘beefsteak’ type, bought off a market stall as tiny plant; grown now for five-odd years from the resulting seeds; and christened Ruth after the English expat friend here who originally gave it to me.
You need literally only a few tomatoes for this recipe, and I use all, in varying quantities, according to what’s ripe and chopped/sliced as their size dictates.
When the bacon/Guanciale is ready, put the slices on some crumpled kitchen paper to drain.
Place the toasted bread on a couple of plates and drizzle generously with the best quality oil you have.
Sprinkle with sea-salt. Maldon is best.
Open the Mozzarella container. Pour away the liquid and tear – don’t cut – the Mozzarella ball into pieces and artfully arrange them on the toast.
Add a few slices of tomato.
Sprinkle with oregano.
Add a very little of the fresh/dried chilli if you’re using it. The idea is for just a few spikes of heat as you’re eating, rather than have all the other tastes overwhelmed.
Another little drizzle of oil.
Finally, top everything with two slices of bacon/Guanciale per plate.
And that’s it.
Except for having a glass of well-chilled rose already poured.
Fiddle around with this recipe as you will – some like to gently rub the toast with a sliced garlic clove – but don’t complicate things, as one of the delights here is the speed and simplicity with which you can produce something truly delicious..
But however you tweak/amend/bend to your own taste or whim, the one ingredient that can’t be fooled around with in even the tiniest degree is proper Mozzarella di Bufala, which has a taste, texture and flavour that cow’s milk Mozzarella doesn’t even come close to rivalling.
If you can’t find it – make something else.
Lucky us in Italy that you can cheaply buy Mozarella di Bufala anywhere. And while it’s not exactly hard to find outside Italy, you’ll pay a little more for the pleasure.