How to use fresh mozzarella like an Italian

Dear Lynne,
I am in love. The supermarket in my little town started to carry mozzarella in liquid. Can you give me some authentic Italian ways of using it?

Dear Joe,

What a gift. Wonderfully squishy on the inside, fresh and milk-tasting, this cheese comes close to what you'd eat in Italy. You can do so much with it beyond pizza.

In Rome there was this pasta dish with this sort of fresh mozzarella. It was tossed with bow-tie pasta, a little of the pasta water to make things creamy, chunks of fresh green tomatoes, lots of black pepper and slow-cooked garlic in olive oil.
In Milan I had a great play of contrasts. A chef covered cool mozzarella slices with a spoonful of hot polenta. He finished it with melted butter and sautéed onions.  
On a Puglia (the region that forms the heel of the boot) guest farm, I had a great treatment as an antipasto -- mozzarella in cream. Little tastes of vegetables and the cheese are set out with lots of coarse, rustic bread. You mix and match what pleases you. 

Antipasto of Cream-Drenched Mozzarella with Small Tomatoes

15 minutes prep time; 24 hours unattended refrigerator time. Serves 6

  • 12 ounces mozzarella packed in liquid, drained and cut into 1-inch pieces 
  • 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 basket of small grape tomatoes
  • 6 light-green inner stalks of celery, sliced into small sticks
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups good-tasting, oil-cured, Sicilian, or Kalamata black olives
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt in a bowl with a spoon
  • A pepper mill with black peppercorns
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn in half
  • A loaf of country bread, broken into bite-sized pieces
1. Up to a day before serving, put the mozzarella in a serving bowl and cover it with the cream. Cover and refrigerate. Before serving, bring the cheese close to room temperature. Set out all the other ingredients in separate bowls. Give each diner a dinner plate.

2. The idea is to keep trying new combinations. Don't miss forking up a piece of basil leaf with cream-drenched mozzarella, or biting into a sweet grape tomato with a bit of the cheese. Olives and celery sing with this cheese, and you have to taste it with just coarse salt and pepper.

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