I’ve always loved good foods- I can’t say that all of these fit into the ‘healthy’ category but for dietary reasons I have avoided packaged processed foods whenever possible. I determined early on that I don’t enjoy eating foods that are over salted, contain too much garlic, are made with high fructose corn syrup or preservatives. I cannot claim to be a health fanatic, nor a vegetarian, although I tend to dabble in both. I will shamelessly eat any homemade baked good that catches my eye. But if I had to put a label on myself, I would say that the word that describes me is “qualitarian”.
This doesn’t only pertain to foods, it carries over to my other relationships too. I like people and conversations of substance. I like knowing that my time is well spent with those I enjoy most. Quality time = quality experience. Something that has had an elevated meaning to me since my surgeries.
A few months ago, I set out to do something for my birthday; I wanted it to include good friends, good food and a memorable experience. I had read an article in the New York Times that talked about the quest of a Northern California man named Craig Rimini, who was living in the Bay Area. I was captivated by his story. He was a retired Silicon Valley veteran that threw in his laptop to wrangle a herd of stubborn and skittish half-a-ton a piece water buffalo; to live out his passion by making artisan buffalo mozzarella cheese.
I scoured the Internet for articles written about him and learned he was creating an exclusive product. “Our customers are the 1 percent of 1 per cent of chefs. I call them enthusiasts because they’ve been to Italy and know what it is. My audience is not Trader Joe’s or Costco. I’m focusing on small batch, handcrafted cheese (to be) used by talented local chefs,” said Craig Ramini. Even more impressive is the fact that buffalo mozzarella, which appropriately named, comes from real water buffalo.
His journey has been anything but easy. Despite the fact that Italians have been making this delicate cheese for over a century, there are hardly any US-based craftsmen that have established herds for the sole purpose of cheese making. And according to Craig, no one has been able to sustain production over any notable length of time. After a bit of a struggle he spent some time in Italy at the behest of some buffalo mozzarella cheese makers and the results paid off for him and his wife. They now make a coveted specialty cheese that is featured in many of the best local restaurants – and the few hand crafted balls I managed to find at Paradise Foods in Tiburon, California priced out at about $30 per pound. For foodies this type of quality product is a slice of bliss! For qualartarian’s it is a must.
With incredible ease, I located Craig’s phone number, called him up and explained my vision. He kindly welcomed us out for a tour with his rock stars. And when I say rock stars I mean, these bison are named after rock stars – Joan Jett, Bob Dylan, Grace Slick, Van Morrison, Shakira…and the cast of celebrities totaling a herd of 35. How can you not adore this story?
I love that he took his Silicon Valley foundation – of taking a vision and building out a model to achieve it – and then threw away his desk job to live out his passion. He proudly told me, “ I never have a bad day at the office.” In the picturesque setting of Tomales Bay, I am 99.9 percent certain I believe him.
Buffalo Mozzarella & Eggplant Caprese Tower with Pea Mint Pesto
2 Ramini Buffalo Mozzarella balls, approx 6.5 oz. each
6-8 Basil Leaves, garnish
This recipe combines the nostalgic tastes of summer in Tuscany by utilizing fresh ingredients with a crisp twist. Much of it can be made ahead of time so there is no rush when serving guests al fresco.
When using the Ramini Mozzarella bring to room temperature. This can be done in one of two ways. If time allows, rinse buffalo mozzarella balls in water and allow to sit in a bowl on counter for 8 hours. If pressed for time, rinse buffalo mozzarella balls in water, place mozzarella back into containers and place container in a bowl of hot water for an hour. Check water after 30 minutes to ensure it does not need to be replaced for warmer water.
Note: Sauce and pesto can be made 1-2 day(s) prior and refrigerated. Bring both to room temperature before assembling tower. Directions for assembly below.
When compiling a grocery list, it is important to note that there are four ingredients lists to this recipe. This recipe serves 6-8 people depending on size of eggplant and slices of both the eggplant rounds and buffalo mozzarella cheese slices. Recipe summary:
– Buffalo Mozzarella & Garnish
– Quick Tomato Sauce
– Pea Mint Pesto
– Quick Pan Grilled Eggplant
Quick Tomato Sauce
Tomato Sauce Ingredients
1/4 cup yellow or white onion, finely chopped
1 TBS olive oil
1 can tomato puree (Muir Glen brand is my favorite)
1 tsp Italian Seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
1 TBS white wine (optional)
1 dried porcini mushroom (optional)
Tomato Sauce Directions
In medium size pot, add olive oil and fry onion on low-heat until soft and translucent. Add in tomato puree, salt and pepper and Italian seasoning.
Add in any optional items. If using porcini mushroom, soak in hot water for 10 minutes, then slice into small pieces.Allow to cook for 30 minutes. Cool and set aside. If not using immediately cover and refrigerate.
Pea Mint Pesto
1/2 tsp shallot
3 TBS olive oil
1 cup peas
1 cup mint
3 TBS milk
1/2 tsp garlic salt
2 TBS Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 TBS walnuts, finely grated
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and mix until finely combined. Set aside. If not using immediately, add a thin layer of olive oil on top, cover and refrigerate. Before using give it a quick stir with a spoon to combine added oil.
Quick Cook Eggplant
1 TBS olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Rinse the eggplant under cool water. Wipe the eggplant with a clean paper towel to dry off the water. Lay the eggplant on a cutting board. Cut off the stem end of the eggplant. Slice the eggplant into 1/4- to 1/2-inch round slices.
Over medium-high heat add a minimal amount of oil in a non-stick pan. To reduce oil absorption until the oil wait until the oil is hot before adding the eggplant. Spread the oil around the skillet to help brown the slices evenly. Arrange the eggplant slices in the hot oil, leaving space between the pieces to allow for even cooking. Use tongs to turn the slices frequently so that the pieces don’t burn.
Place a clean paper towel on a plate. Transfer the eggplant slices to the plate when the pieces are lightly browned. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with the desired seasonings, such as salt and pepper.
On a salad plate add 2 TBS of tomato sauce to center of plate. Spread out sauce working in a circular motion. Sauce should exceed size of eggplant rounds used. Next place 1 slice of Ramini Mozzarella, top with another slice of eggplant, and another slice of Ramini Mozzarella. Fill a basil leaf with pea and mint pesto and place atop tower. Serve at room temperature.
More fun at Ramini Ranch…stay tuned for more buffalo mozzarella recipe posts!
Disclosure: I received free Ramini Buffalo Mozzarella and Muir Glen Organic Tomato Sauce for recipe development. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.
Special thanks to all of those that helped me make this post possible while I recover from hand surgery. My beautiful mother, my lovely Avanti Morocha, Kevin, Craig, Elli and Chefferson. You know who you are and how much your love, support and indulgence all means to me and keeping my cooking/blogging dreams alive.