When I was dreaming up a salad/appetizer in which to use a creamy mass of freshly-made mozzarella I recently purchased from an Italian market, suddenly the vision of a delicate tower came to me. It had gorgeous layers of color and contrasting textures. It was constructed from slices of fresh mozzarella, red beefsteak tomatoes, and … what was that? What was that golden, flaky square balanced on top? (Insert angels’ chorus.) It was a layer of pastry formed from several buttered sheets of crispy phyllo dough.
Everyone knows – and most everyone adores – Caprese salad. This is a tricolor salad that supposedly originated on the island of Capri in the Bay of Naples. It is traditionally made with slices of mozzarella and tomato combined with fragrant basil leaves and drizzled simply with olive oil.
A Napoleon is a stacked dessert made with layers of crisp, tissue-thin pastry and luscious cream. The top layer is often glazed with icing or dusted with powdered sugar. (Incidentally, this dessert is a favorite of both mine and Nicole’s. You know, just throwing that out there. Eh-hem.)
I have come up with an appetizer I call a Napoleon Caprese because it marries the perfect taste combination of the Caprese salad with the eye-catching construction and satisfying crisp of a Napoleon. If you are skeptical about the pastry, I assure you there’s nothing sweet about the phyllo dough squares and the butter we will use to glue each phyllo sheet together will only bring out the rich butteriness of the mozzarella. Another cool part: Instead of plunking whole basil leaves in between the layers, we are going to glaze the pastry in basil oil.
This is a dish that hits a homerun in presentation, deceiving all your family and friends that you slaved all day for them. (Yeah, right. For them?) On the contrary, this recipe is so short and simple, I have lots of room this week to illustrate each step with pictures. So let’s begin with the ingredients.
- 6 Tbsp olive oil, separated
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
- 4 Tbsp butter, melted (plus a little extra butter for greasing the baking sheet)
- 6 sheets of purchased phyllo dough
- 2-3 beefsteak tomatoes
- 8 one-inch slices of fresh mozzarella
- 1 bunch fresh basil
- salt and pepper to taste
- flour for dusting baking sheet
If you want to purchase garlic-infused oil you can go ahead and skip this first step. Otherwise, place 3 Tbsp of olive oil with the garlic in a small saucepan and keep over medium-low heat (turn it lower if it starts to sizzle). We’re just trying to get the flavor of the garlic into the oil, so you can let that hang out for a while. Go onto the other steps and check back in a little while. If you can taste the garlic in the oil by dabbing your finger carefully into it, the infusion is done.
Take the oil off the heat and disgard the garlic.
Next, liberally butter and flour a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place one sheet of phyllo dough onto the pan and brush with melted butter. Place another sheet directly on top of the first and brush with butter. Repeat until you have six layers. Using a sharply pointed knife, cut the dough into eight squares. Bake in the oven until each square is slightly puffed and golden (less than 10 minutes). When they have finished baking, set aside to cool.
Meanwhile we’ll grill the tomato. Cut the tomatoes into thick one-inch slices and brush them with the garlic-infused oil. Heat a cast iron grill pan until it’s screaming hot. If you don’t own a grill pan, use a saute pan, you just won’t get the beautiful carmel lines on the tomato. Cook the tomato slices on one side only. We’re just trying to get a little carmelization on them and soften them up a bit. When you have achieved this, set them aside in the refrigerator to cool.
It’s time to make our basil oil that we will use to glaze the pastry squares. In a blender, combine 3 handfuls of fresh basil leaves, 3 Tbsp olive oil, 2 pinches of salt and one of pepper. When this is well blended, brush the oil onto the puffed sides of the pastry squares.
Seriously, that’s it. Now all that’s left is assembly. The first layer will be tomato. Place a slice down on the serving plate and add a slice of mozzarella on top. Next add a square of basil-brushed pastry. Repeat all three layers and garnish the plate with a whole basil leaf and a drizzle of remaining basil oil.
Buon appetito! -- J. Fortune