The True (Maybe) Origin Story of Insalata Caprese

A hotel menu provides the first written reference to insalata caprese. The Grand Hotel Quisisana is one of Capri’s most elegant, a five-star establishment opened in 1845 and still today welcoming guests accustomed to luxury. In 1926, the hotel hosted a conference on futurism with the noted author of the Futurist Manifesto, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. In keeping with the conference theme, the hotel served a “Dinner of the Future,” which included a rather stark antipasto in the colors of the Italian flag: red tomatoes, white mozzarella, green basil. A drizzle of olive oil, perhaps a pinch of salt. Little did the hotel kitchen know it had created a superstar of the future: the insalata caprese.

Conference diners would have certainly gotten the salad’s message. Marinetti had revolutionary ideas about the proper way to eat, ideas that he laid out in a later publication, the Manifesto of Futurist Cooking. He declared war on dried pasta, believing that it sapped energy and virility. He argued for lighter fare, vegetarianism and a rejection of foreign foods. A provocateur whose views became increasingly extreme over time, he would have appreciated the pared-down purity of the insalata caprese.

It appears that the insalata caprese languished until the 1950s, when deposed Egyptian King Farouk, in exile on Capri, asked the hotel for something light to eat. Some cook at the Quisisana, familiar with the hotel’s history, resuscitated the insalata caprese. Capri’s reputation as a resort for the chic and wealthy helped cement the salad’s image as a dish that stylish people ate.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Today, the insalata caprese has spread far and wide, an ambassador for fresh mozzarella and la dolce vita. Too bad that it is so often bastardized or complicated.

cred. Janet Fletcher
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Baba 1820

The story behind the inspiration for our dessert Baba (Belem) 1820

At the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, in Belém, next to Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (the Heironymite Monastery) there was a sugar cane refinery attached to a small general store.
As a result of the 1820 liberal revolution, all convents and monasteries in Portugal were shut down in 1834, the clergy and labourers expelled.

In an attempt at survival, someone from the monastery offered sweet pastries for sale in the shop; pastries that rapidly became known as ‘Pastéis de Belém’.

At that period the area of Belém was considered far from the city of Lisbon and mainly accessed by steam-boats. At the same time, the grandeur of the monastery and the Torre de Belém (the Belém Tower) attracted visitors who soon grew used to savouring the delicious pastries originated in the monastery.

In 1837, the baking of the “Pastéis de Belém”began in the buildings attached to the refinery, following the ancient ‘secret recipe` from the monastery. Passed on and known exclusively to the master confectioners who hand-crafted the pastries in the ‘secret room’, this recipe remained unchanged to the present day.

In fact, the only true ‘Pasteis de Belém’ contrive, by means of a scrupulous selection of ingredients, to offer even today the flavour of the time-honoured Portuguese sweetmaking.