Upon hearing that I was a food writer who shares recipes, someone once rolled their eyes and sarcastically asked ‘So what… he writes a recipe for a Caprese Salad and thinks he’s reinvented it?’
One could argue this person has never experienced a real passion (poor cow) but another would argue this person has missed the point of sharing a real passion.
Invention and reinvention has never been my goal as a food writer. In fact, there is something reassuringly comforting to me knowing that my recipe ideas come to me through the influence and teaching (conscious or otherwise) from those who have inspired me.
This osmosis of rituals and ideas is what keeps the recipe form alive.
There are many disputes to be had here in terms of authenticity, in terms of what consequence would changing ingredients or methods have to the legitimacy of the original dish, and I totally understand this. But a recipe, while it has the capacity to act as an untouched legacy piece, also has to act as a shared experience between the writer and the reader – for that very reason alone, recipe development is inevitable.
The recipes I write (or often adapt) and share tend to be familiar recipes, rather than innovative experiments, because my food has to represent how they were born into form in my real life and have to reflect how I cook and think about food. This often means that traditional recipes I know and love or new ideas I come across have to be modified to fit into my life. This could mean adapting the ingredients to suit what I have in my kitchen, playing with spice or herb combinations to suit my palette or fiddling with the method that fits my – often idle – cooking style.
I can’t strive too far into the realm of invention, because my cooking style has and always will be designed for the rhythm of my life.
That is why I do not present recipes to my readers under the guise of new discovery. My offering is nothing more than enthusiasm for food, a description of how a recipe fell into my life, the purpose it served and some structured but permissive instructions on how a reader would be able to bring it into theirs.
I never claim authenticity and I never claim invention.
Often times in food writing, inspiration can be mocked due to the expectation of invention. A food writer often holds the burden of innovation and sometimes they even apologise for the lack of originality and complexity of a recipe – something I try to limit in my own writing. I will always credit where I came across the original recipe and mark where I find it differs from it’s original incarnation, but these differences will never be a mark of disrespect but more a note on modification for personal practicality.
I can be inspired by a particular dish, bring the concept into my own kitchen and then adapt methods, ingredients and servings based on my own confidences and contexts – but therein lies the life cycle of cooking. To want to police this sequence would be to eliminate the vibrant conversation of food that influences how we cook.
I’ll use my Biscuit Chicken Wings as an example. This recipe came to me, honestly, because my friend Sharon in work said she coats her chicken in cornflakes and when I went to the shop to try her recipe, I genuinely couldn’t remember what ingredient she used. So I mistakenly grabbed digestive biscuits thinking that’s what she said. This birthed my Biscuit Chicken Wings – or Bisquicken as it’s called in my house – which launched a thousand messy fingered meals. This recipe has since been cooked by my readers who have used other coating ingredients, but used the method I detailed.
That’s the evolution of cooking.
I did not invent coating chicken wings in a spicy crumb, I did not invent using unorthodox ingredients to coat the chicken, nor did I reinvent the chicken wing. I took the bare fundamentals of a chicken wing recipe and it was adapted to suit my life at that moment. It just so happens, that as a food writer, I then shared this enthusiasm.
And this sharing of enthusiasms is at the forefront of why I share recipes.
Many of my readers will contact me and tell me about their own modifications to recipes I have shared – switching a certain herb, changing vegetables, adjusting cooking times for their own oven. This is what births a recipe into form, and as someone who writes and shares them, for me, this is the ultimate reward.
So – deep breath – here is a recipe for the salad that launched this narrative.
Ironically, when plating this up for the photo, I was scolded and told by someone who lived in Italy for many years ‘This isn’t a Caprese Salad – Italians lay it out differently’ and then the plate was rearranged and the eagle eyed among you will also note that I add prosciutto to the salad, for I have been told this does not make it a Caprese Salad. So, to limit any tomato throwing at me, I called it a Caprese Salad with Prosciutto. But rest assured, when I make this without the looming photography session and the guidance of someone who lived in Italy, the ingredients will end up on the plate however my hand sees fit at that time.
And after everything I have said, I feel it proper to say that of course, this is not a recipe I think I have reinvented. It is just something I like to eat regularly because it tastes wonderful, looks beautiful, is very easy to prepare and reminds me of a spectacular lunch I had on the banks of the Arno river in Florence – where it was served with prosciutto. Just saying.
And I don’t say this defensively. I say this only to remind you that my goal is not to reinvent recipes but to blend my joy of cooking with my passion for writing and then share this experience with my readers.
Because this is where I have found real joy and connection to life, and those who have experienced the same will understand. Those who haven’t, won’t.
2 large vine tomatoes (plus any other small tomatoes you have spare in the fridge like I did!)
2 balls of fresh mozzarella (drained from their packet)
A handful of fresh basil leaves
7 or 8 slices of prosciutto
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
There is no cooking involved here, just some plating up and drizzling and for that reason, don’t feel too glued to the aesthetic of an image. I had a bit of a rant earlier about authenticity and noted the absence of authenticity with the plating up but my guidance to my readers is not to lose sleep over how this is plated. So long as all of your ingredients are on the plate – you’re fine.
- Cut the large tomatoes into slices and arrange them on a plate.
- Slice the mozzarella balls into thick rounds and arrange them amongst the tomatoes.
- Tear the basil leaves up and dot them in and around the tomatoes and mozzarella.
- Take the prosciutto slices and layer them into the salad – you could just tear them up and tuck them into the salad or roll them up and stuff into any gaps on the plate as I’ve done in the picture
- Drizzle the salad with a little bit of the olive oil, scatter over some salt and pepper and serve.