Fresh mozzarella is also a regular part of our loot. In the summer, we rarely get very creative with it, and almost invariably turn to the classic Caprese salad. But in the winter, good tomatoes are hard to find. Furthermore, when it’s chilly outside, I find myself less easily satisfied by a cold dinner: I need something hot to warm myself.
So, how do you make a hot dish with fresh mozzarella, without altogether killing its flavour? Because it seems like a waste to just use it in a gratin or casserole, where grated dry mozzarella (or any number of other cheeses) works just fine…
We recently found a solution in Josée di Stasio’s Pasta Et Cetera: a recipe for pizza scappata. “Scappata” means “escaped,” or “runaway.” Basically, this is a pizza without the dough (which has “escaped”): you make your tomato sauce in a shallow pan, gently melt the mozzarella slices, add seasonings, and you’re done! All you have to do is scoop up the mixture with rustic bread… or homemade focaccia, if you happen to have a little time on your hands.
It’s a ridiculously simple recipe, but it’s just so comforting and homey, we keep coming back to it. Josée di Stasio keeps her flavours basic, with just a little fresh basil. But winter doesn’t just make me want warm meals, it also makes me crave strong flavours and spices. So I like to add things like anchovies and red pepper flakes. Anything works, as long as you can scoop it up easily.
Adapted from Pasta Et Cetera à la Di Stasio
Serves 4 as an appetizer, or 2 as a meal
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, cut in half
One 540 ml (19 oz) can of diced tomatoes
2 tsp tomato paste
1 ball of fresh mozzarella
6-8 preserved anchovy filets, drained
A big handful of basil leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
A dash of hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco (or substitute with red pepper flakes)
Crusty bread (or focaccia), for serving
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the garlic and let it flavour the oil for a few minutes. Do not let the garlic brown.
Raise the heat to medium-high and add the canned tomatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until the tomatoes are soft. Stir in the tomato paste and the pepper sauce (or red pepper flakes), and continue cooking until the mixture is slightly reduced. Remove the garlic and discard.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Thinly slice the mozzarella and place the slices over the tomatoes, in a regular pattern. Without stirring, let the cheese melt (cover the skillet with a lid if necessary). This should take 1-2 minutes. In the meantime, coarsely chop the anchovies and sprinkle them over the mixture.
When the cheese is completely melted, remove the skillet from heat. Shred the basil leaves and scatter them over the pan. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve immediately. Eat directly from the pan, scooping up the mixture with the bread.