Directions: Pour all vinaigrette ingredients in a blender (or a food processor fitted with a metal blade) and pulse until emulsified. Pour into a glass dressing bottle (or creut ) with a tightly sealed lid and shake vigorously to combine. Place diced fennel into a large bowl, pour dressing on top, and toss together. Then cover bowl and place into the refrigerator, allowing the fennel to marinate for at least an hour. When ready, remove bowl from the refrigerator. Add remaining salad ingredients, except for the basil, which will become soggy and limp if added too soon. Toss, cover, and then return to refrigerator once more. Refrigerate for at least an hour in order for the flavors to meld. Add basil just before serving and toss together. Serve and enjoy!
Yield: Serves approximately 3-4 persons.
Chef's Notes: It's really crucial to marinate the fennel separately, as this helps it to lose its strong licorice overtones, and instead transform into a much more complementary flavor with respect to the other salad ingredients. If you marinate everything together, the dressing will be spread too thin and the fennel won't be able to adequately soak up the dressing. So, this is why the fennel should be marinated by itself first. :)
Also, it's really important to choose high quality olive oil for this recipe. Since you won't be cooking with it, the flavor of the olive oil will be a lot more noticeable. :) So don't skimp; this is not the time to cut corners. The olive oil you chose should have a pronounced flavor. This is why extra virgin olive oil is the perfect choice. For this particular dish, I used high-quality Spanish olive oil, which is now being imported to other countries like Italy, which is typically known for its olive oil. (In fact, Spain now produces over 50% of the world's olive oil.) So, in other words, you know it's got to be the good stuff. :) If any of you are curious to check out the exact type of olive oil I used, it's the picudo variety of Aceiterapia 's olive oil.
This type of olive oil has a marked olive flavor. It's slightly spicy and nutty-tasting with a little bit of bite. These flavors are balanced out by its smooth and buttery finish, and so it goes well with salads like insalata caprese . :-D
To make this dish vegan, simply substitute imitation cheese (like soy cheese, etc.) for the mozzarella, or omit the mozzarella altogether.