I’ve been enamored with Soho’s Italian Restaurant at the Capitol Market in Charleston, West Virginia, for several years. I rarely dine out, but I manage to eat at Soho’s two or three times a year–which is saying a lot, since I so rarely go to a restaurant. My favorite dish at Soho’s is their open-face Caprese sandwich. In one meaning, Caprese indicates an inhabitant of the island of Capri, but in cooking-speak it refers to an Italian dish comprised of tomato, mozzarella, basil, and olive oil.
This is how Soho’s describes their sandwich: “Fresh mozzarella, roma tomatoes, red onions, basil, with olive tapenade on fresh-baked ciabatta bread.” (They sell it for $6.95.)
Yum. We can do that! Ummm…. Can we? The star of the show here is, without a doubt, the mozzarella, which is a fresh, soft mozzarella–too soft to shred, but firm enough to slice. I’ve been wanting to recreate this cheese–and this sandwich–at home for some time. The last time I was at Soho’s, I asked the waiter if they made the mozzarella themselves. No. He told me they bought it. Hmm. I started experimenting, and for this month’s cheese challenge for New England Cheesemaking, here is my trick for creating this wonderful, soft restaurant-style cheese plus my recreation of the fabulous Caprese sandwich.
Let’s get started in sandwich order–with the bread!
For the fresh-baked ciabatta bread, you can either buy a loaf of ciabatta at a local bakery, or make your own. Ciabatta is an Italian-style soft and fabulous open-crumb bread. I make my own.
An olive tapenade is a simple olive spread made in a way similar to pesto. Think: Pesto with olives. The olives are pureed in a food processor along with garlic and herbs. Olive oil is added to a spread consistency rather than a more saucy consistency as with a pesto. If you are opposed to olives, a thick pesto would be a good substitute. You could also substitute the olives with another vegetable of your choice, such as peppers. (Pepper tapenade!)
There are many, many olive tapenade recipes on the internet. After perusing several, from complicated (Emeril!) to much more simple, I made mine using what I had available to me and the olives I already had on my pantry shelf (Kalamata). I’ve seen tapenade recipes with every kind of olive on the planet, so choose your favorite. (Don’t use olives with pimento!) If you don’t use olives, you may want to add a pinch of salt. If you use olives, they are generally salty enough without adding any more.
I chose herbs from my garden. Any Mediterranean herbs will do. You can substitute dried. (Use dried in smaller amounts.)
Adjust the quantities to suit the amount of tapenade you’re preparing.
How to make Olive Tapenade:
9-10 ounce jar of pitted olives, drained
2 cloves garlic
handful each of fresh parsley, rosemary, oregano, chives
Puree olives, garlic, and herbs in food processor. Add olive oil a little at a time and blend to spreading consistency.
Olive tapenade stores in the fridge for a week, so you can make it ahead of time. This recipe makes over a cup of tapenade.
Try it on other sandwiches, or burgers! Use sparingly–it is salty. It pairs especially well with mozzarella.
And speaking of the show-stopper, the wonderful, soft cheese–this recipe is a twist on Ricki Carroll’s 30-Minute Mozzarella recipe in the classic Home Cheese Making. I can’t tell you that this is how the cheese served at Soho’s Italian Restaurant is actually made. (In fact, I think it’s not! Next month, I’ll demonstrate another twist on mozzarella that I believe is the real secret.) In the meantime, I can tell you that this recipe is a very easy short-cut for soft mozzarella. I created this twist on the recipe myself and it’s been tested using unpasteurized fresh raw milk from my cow as well as with pasteurized milk from the store.
This cheese is best made with farm-fresh or local milk, either slow pasteurized (at 145 degrees for 30 minutes) or used raw. If you’re using pasteurized store-bought milk, add 1/2 teaspoon calcium chloride directly to the milk when you put it in the pot. Do NOT use ultra-pasteurized milk.
I make mozzarella every week, sometimes several times a week, and shred and pack it in one-quart freezer baggies so I have all the mozzarella I need at any time for lasagna, pizza, etc, and can have plenty of cheese in the future when my cow is dried off. I’ve been thinking about the Soho’s soft mozzarella for awhile, wondering how it was made. While I was making mozzarella one day, I thought, these curds sure look like that soft mozzarella…….. This was looking at curds right out of the pot, before any microwave heating and stretching. What would happen if I stopped the process right here and made cheese from the curds with no heating and stretching? My instincts were telling me this cheese wasn’t worked with too much. It was soft cheese. The heating and stretching changes the texture of the cheese. From those thoughts, I came up with this method. If you want an easy cheese, this is the one! It slices great for sandwiches, and melts wonderfully.
Here’s my soft, sliced cheese melted in a grilled cheese sandwich:
Note: Mozzarella is a pasta filata cheese, which means a cheese in which the curds have been stretched or spun. Filata means “spun” and pasta means “paste” in reference to the cheese paste or curds. For that reason, the method I came up with is technically a curd cheese rather than a true mozzarella (because I’m not stretching it).
How to make Mozzarella Curd Cheese:
1/2 teaspoon calcium chloride (only if using store milk)
1 1/2 level teaspoons citric acid dissolved in 1/2 cup cool water
1 gallon whole milk
1/4 teaspoon lipase powder (Italase) dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water (for 20 minutes prior to using)*
1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet diluted in 1/4 cup cool, unchlorinated water
*Do not add lipase if using milk from the store. It will make your curds too soft.
I like to prepare my work area and get all ingredients in their dilutions lined up.
Step 1. If using store milk, add the 1/2 teaspoon calcium chloride directly to the milk when you put it in the pot. While stirring the milk constantly, add the citric acid solution.
Step 2. Begin heating the milk, continuing to stir, until it reaches 90 degrees.
Step 3. Stir in the diluted lipase. Mix thoroughly then stir in the diluted rennet with an up-and-down motion. If using raw milk, continue heating (stop stirring) the milk to 100-105. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes before transferring to a colander.
If using store-bought milk, after adding the rennet at 90, turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Check the curd. If it’s too soft, let it sit a few more minutes. Cut the curd into 1-inch squares with a knife that reaches the bottom of the pot. Place the pot back on stove and heat to 105 while stirring slowly. Take it off the heat and continue stirring slowly for 2-5 minutes before transferring to a colander.
Curd pulling away from the sides of the pot now, revealing the whey:
Note that the cheese right out of the pot already has a stretchy quality.
Here is where we are diverging from the traditional 30-Minute Mozzarella recipe entirely!
Step 4. Scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon, transferring to a colander set over a bowl (to collect the whey). As you ladle the cheese from the pot to the colander, sprinkle cheese salt in the layers of curds.
Step 5. Work with the curds as little as possible while still allowing as much whey to drain as you can.
Use a slotted spoon to just sort of lift up and move around the curd mass without disrupting it. (Don’t stir up the curds or knead them.) Within about 5-10 minutes of draining, the curd mass will become small enough that you can move it to either a small ricotta basket or a 1-2 pound cheese mold.
Put the cheese, in the mold, back in the colander to continue draining.
The ricotta basket makes a pretty imprint.
Now the cheese is ready to eat, or store in the fridge for later. (Keeps in the fridge for about a week.) Soft slice-able cheese, restaurant-style. That’s it! Easy!
On to the sandwich!
Along with some wonderful thick-sliced bread and soft slices of mozzarella, you’ll need the olive tapenade, fresh basil leaves, tomatoes, and red onions. Roma tomatoes would be best, and I’ve got some Roma plants in my garden, but they’re not making tomatoes yet so I just used a regular tomato.
Soho’s serves their sandwich on larger slices of ciabatta than this, and they serve two for the $6.95 plate. I always think it’s a bit too much, so I made mine with a smaller slice of bread and only one. The beauty of homemade is that you can make it however you want.
Spread the tapenade.
Here comes the beautiful basil.
The onion, sliced thin.
This open-face sandwich makes a nice, light lunch, or can also serve as a side with an entree such as grilled steak. I gotta go eat this one now, so see ya! (Don’t miss the giveaway below.)
See how I made my cheese cave here.
See all my posts in Cheesemaking here.
I get my supplies here.
This is my cow.
To help you get started making cheese, New England Cheesemaking is providing a package including (value of each item in parentheses): Citric acid ($5.95), liquid rennet–animal or vegetable, your choice ($6.50), calcium chloride ($4.95), Italase–lipase powder ($6.95), basic kit mold ($5.50), and curd knife ($20.00). The total value of the package is $49.85. Note: This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. (P.S. Or at least a U.S. shipping address. You can have a friend or relative send it on to you if they have a U.S. shipping address.)
For a chance to win: Leave a comment on this post and let me know you want it. ONE winner will be drawn by random comment number to receive the package. Eligible entry cut-off is midnight Eastern (U.S.) time tomorrow night (June 16). This post will be updated with the winner by 9 a.m. Eastern (U.S.) time on Friday (June 17). Return to this post to claim your prize!
UPDATE 06/17/11: The winning comment number, drawn by random.org, is comment #73, renee on the move. Email me at CITRgiveaways@yahoo.com with your full name and address for shipping!
THIS GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED TO ENTRY.