Garlic and pine nuts, currants and onion take the ubiquitous tomato-mozzarella salad into new territory.
For me, this dish is all Sicily, but not in the way you might think. It speaks of Sicily's location 90 miles off the coast of North Africa and of the island's Arab occupation from the ninth to twelfth centuries. That era brought Arab cooks along with scholars, artists and politicians to the island. So today this salad tastes more Medieval and Arab than anything like modern Italy. This is pure Sicily, as typical as a view of Mt. Etna.
Salad can be assembled 30 minutes ahead.
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1/8 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
- Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1/3 medium red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 3 tablespoons currants
- Salt to taste
- 2 tight-packed tablespoons fresh basil, torn
- 2/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 6 medium-sized ripe tomatoes
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella packed in liquid, sliced 1/2-inch thick
- About 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, garlic, the black pepper and the red pepper, the onion, currants, and salt to taste. Let them stand for 20 to 30 minutes. Just before assembling the dish, stir in the basil and all but 1/4 cup of the pine nuts.
2. One at a time, core the tomatoes. Check that each is stable if placed cored side down on a plate. (The idea behind this dish is that each tomato will be sliced horizontally and layered with cheese and seasonings so that it looks whole again on the plate. Keep each tomato's slices in order for easy assembly.)
3. Cut each tomato horizontally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Then reassemble the tomatoes on a serving platter. Start with the bottom slices of each tomato. Season them with a little salt, then top each with a slice of cheese. Season the cheese with a teaspoon or so of the onion mixture. Continue alternating slices until they are used up.
4. To finish the dish, sprinkle the tomatoes with the reserved pine nuts, the olive oil, and any leftover onion mixture. Serve at room temperature.