This recipe is not so much a way of using up summer veggie garden excess (though I do sneak in one of my over-abundant cucumbers) as a nod to the Bartoccioni family’s deli up in town where every Friday, just before lunch, a van draws up to deliver mozzarella, freshly made somewhere in that region around Naples where the very best mozzarella of all hails from.
If your mozzarella comes direct from the bufala (domestic water buffalo) farm where the milk was produced and the cheese made, has never been refrigerated and is super-fresh, it will run rivers of milk when you slice into it. Attractive as this looks, you don’t want it making your salad soggy, so it’s best to cut your cheese into large-ish chunks and spread it in a colander, or on a slightly sloping chopping board balanced over the sink, to allow it time to run off much of its liquid.
Remove the flesh from the avocados and chop that into chunks too. In a mixing bowl, squeeze the juice of a quarter of a lemon over the avocado, and drizzle on a little oil. Now turn it all over gently: you don’t want them turning to mush, but they need some lemon to stop them turning brown immediately. (A word for composters: I find that avocado skins left whole, ie halved, never break down. Chopped up a little, however, they seem to disappear quite easily.)
Next, prepare the anchovies. If they’re good salted anchovies – like the fantastic ones that hail from Cetara on the Amalfi coast – you’ll have to rinse them very well to remove the salt, then pull the fillets apart to extract the backbone. Chop the fillets into tiny pieces.
Top and tail a cucumber, and either peel it, or remove long strings with a lemon zester, then cut it into rings as fine as you can manage without removing any skin off your knuckles or indeed whole fingers. Arrange these slices to line the shallow bowl or plate you plan to serve the salad on. The avocado can now be arranged in a ring, not quite at the edge of the plate/bowl, leaving a well in the centre where the mozzarella will go.
When it’s well drained, tip the mozzarella into a bowl, add the anchovy pieces, and toss this together with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Arrange the cheese on your serving dish in the space left by the avocado.
Mince sufficient parsley and coriander to make about one tablespoon of herbs in total, and sprinkle this over the salad. The oil you have used on the avocados and the mozzarella should suffice, but if it’s a little too dry for your tastes, you can drizzle more oil over the whole concoction.
©Anne Hanley, 2013