It’s a fact that the first recorded use of mozzarella on pizza –– mozzarella di bufala, or mozzarella made from the milk of the water buffalo –– goes back to the year 1889 with the creation of pizza Margherita. Surely, mozzarella di bufala was being used long before 1889. But with the oft-told tale of how pizzaioli Raffaele Esposito created a pizza Margherita to honor the Italian Queen’s visit to Naples in 1889, the whole idea of mozzarella on pizza picked up steam and exploded across Italy.
In fact, mozzarella di bufala was in very short supply in Italy for many years following World War II, because most of the water buffalo herd was killed off at the end of the war (the herd was later restocked with animals from India). In the interim, fi or di latte (mozzarella made from cow’s milk) was the mozzarella of choice.
But mozzarella was not relegated only to a pizza crust. Up and down the boot of Italy, mozzarella was used in dishes like mozzarella in Carrozza (a specialty of the Campania region of Italy) and spiedini alla Romana (a Roman version of a cheese sandwich).
Today mozzarella of every type and style –– mozzarella di bufala (very expensive and in short supply), fi or di latte (made from cow’s milk and readily available, but also expensive) –– finds its way onto pizza. However, the most widely used mozzarella on pizza these days is the low moisture, part-skim type (shredded mostly). Regardless of style, mozzarella is such a versatile cheese that it has managed to find its way onto or into everything from antipasto to salads and pasta dishes. The Parmigiano family of chicken, veal and eggplant is a big user of mozzarella. And then there are unique specialties such as rotolo di mozzarella (or rolled/stuffed mozzarella … see recipe adjacent).
? Mozzarella di bufala: mozzarella made mostly from the milk of the water buffalo (though in some instances, a small amount of cow’s milk is used in the cheese-making process). Has a very short shelf life.
? Fior di latte: Fresh mozzarella made from cow’s milk (very milky, moist, tender, buttery, very tasty) and available in various sizes from ciliegini (“little cherries”) to bocconcini (“little mouthfuls”). And, depending on the maker, it sometimes can be procured in larger balls for slicing and grating. Has a short shelf life, but longer than mozzarella di bufala.
? Low moisture, part-skim mozzarella (or whole milk mozzarella): made from cow’s milk and sold in blocks or shredded for immediate use. Has a long shelf life.
? Smoked mozzarella: readily available and very flavorful. I highly recommend you give it a try. Smoked mozzarella is similar to low moisture, part-skim mozzarella, but it has undergone a cold smoked process to enhance the flavor. An acceptable substitute is scamorza, which is a cow’s milk cheese similar to mozzarella.
Rotolo di mozzarella (Mozzarella rolls)
This mozzarella specialty can be the highlight of your menu, especially for the antipasto section. You can, of course, make your own fresh mozzarella from curd, but some companies make fresh mozzarella sheets where you simply open the package and unroll. Each sheet measures 6-inches wide by 20-inches inches long. Lay the sheet on a clean surface and let your creative juices fl ow in any number of ways with one or more of these suggestions:
? Lay thin slices of prosciutto on the mozzarella sheet.
? PLT: prosciutto, lettuce and tomato.
? Brush the cheese with pesto and shaved cooked chicken.
? Lay thin slices of fresh tomato and fresh basil leaves on the mozzarella sheet.
? Smoked salmon and mascarpone cheese.
? Roasted red peppers and spinach
? Brush the mozzarella sheet with extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle dried herbs (such as oregano and basil) over the olive oil.
Starting from the short end of the mozzarella sheet, roll the sheet jelly roll fashion to form a log. Wrap rolls tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours. Remove the plastic wrap and slice into pinwheels. Arrange the slices on a platter. Serve with a balsamic vinaigrette or other condiment on the side (relative to the filling used).
Spiedini alla Romana
Yield: about 8 servings (scale up in direct proportion)
1 loaf day-old Italian bread, cut into
1⁄2-inch cubes 1 pound mozzarella (use fi or di latte or low moisture part-skim), cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
1 cup olive oil
3 eggs lightly beaten
Place three cubes of the bread and three cubes of the mozzarella on as many skewers as necessary to use up all the bread and cheese.
In a large sauté pan or skillet, heat the oil until it is almost smoking. Dip each skewer in the egg to coat and cook in the oil, turning as needed until the cheese is light golden brown. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels. For a detailed look at how to make fresh mozzarella from curds, check out the archives at the Video Spot on www. PizzaToday.com. You won’t believe how simple, and fun, it can be.
Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.