Our Italian food tour brings us to Capri and the Amalfi coast today, with the typical caprese. But, are we talking about the cake or about the salad?
Interestingly, caprese is a polysemous word referring both to sweet and salty delicacies originated (hence the name) from the Italian isle of Capri. However, these can be tasted in the Neapolitan territory and in most parts of Italy too, having become two of the symbols of the traditional Italian cuisine.
For what concerns the sweet specialty, caprese is a flourless dark chocolate almond cake. It was first made in 1920, when two gangsters went to the famous Carmine Di Fiore’s bakery to get a cake for Al Capone. Knowing that the cake was for the boss, the pastry chef got so nervous that forgot to add flour to the batter. This mistake resulted in a huge success: it became a cake from the crispy surface and a soft, moist and chocolatey inside… everybody loved it! Even if the original story of this cake does not mention it, it must be said that the authentic caprese cake also has a thick layer of confectioner’s sugar on it, often showing the writing caprese and/or the image of the Faraglioni, the icon of the isle of Capri. Today it is still much appreciated and, being also gluten-free, it can be eaten by many. To get how it tastes like, imagine a classic brownie with chopped almonds inside.
The salted caprese, instead, refers to the caprese salad, a typical summer salad that includes the colours of the Italian flag, red, white and green. It is said that its origins date back to the aftermath of World War I, when a Caprese worker filled his sandwich with “cuore di bue” tomatoes, fior di latte cheese (a sort of mozzarella cheese but made from regular cow’s milk), basil and olive oil, to honour the Italian flag. In 1922, it was also served at the dinner organised by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (the founder of Futurism) at the Grand Hotel Quisisana – the most famous hotel in Capri – to surprise the poet. On that occasion, knowing that Marinetti condemned pasta for “its lassitude and pessimism”, the chef decided to propose him something new: the caprese salad. He was enchanted with the harmony of these three simple and genuine ingredients. A few years later, in 1951, it was also appreciated by King Farouk – king of Egypt – and since then has become widely spread in Campania, especially on the islands and on the Amalfi and Sorrento coasts. Today, depending on where you eat it, caprese salad can be made with fior di latte or mozzarella (made from buffalo’s milk). For example, along the Sorrento Coast, fior di latte will be more likely to be used, together with the local variety of tomato, the “pomodoro di Sorrento”, being typical products of the area. Sometimes, also oregano can be added, fresh or dry.
Interestingly enough, the Oxford English Dictionary includes only the definition of this latter food; in fact, it defines the term caprese as “an adjective denoting a salad of mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and fresh basil”.
Abbott, L. et al. (eds.) (2011). Ultimate Food Journeys. DK Publishing.
Associazione Italiana Food Blogger, https://www.aifb.it/calendario-del-cibo/giornata-nazionale-della-caprese/.
Comune di Anacapri, insalata caprese, http://www.comunedianacapri.it/pagina130_insalata-caprese.html.
Comune di Anacapri, torta caprese, http://www.comunedianacapri.it/pagina132_torta-caprese.html.
Homecooking adventure, https://www.homecookingadventure.com/recipes/torta-caprese-flourless-chocolate-almond-cake.
Machado, A., Prete, C. (2015). 1001 specialità della cucina italiana da provare almeno una volta nella vita. Newton Compton editori.
Oxford English Dictionary, online version, https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/caprese.
Sorrento Holiday, https://www.sorrentoholiday.info/italian/pomodoro.htm.
Written by Vittoria Massaro, PhD in “European Languages and Specialized Terminology” at the University of Naples “Parthenope”.