Softly, softly: Skye Gyngell's mouthwatering alternative accompaniments for mozzarella

Sunday 08 August 2010 00:00 BST

Summer is the perfect time to eat young cheese. Soft, sweet and pliable, mozzarella is perhaps the best and most beautiful of all the fragile curd cheeses. The word mozza in Italian slang means "to cut", in this case when the heated curd is stretched and cut into balls. It is traditionally made from buffalo milk – which is lighter and sweeter than milk from cows – in Campania, in the south of Italy. Look for artisan cheeses if possible, rather than factory-made. Made with the freshest milk, its texture is light and very slightly chewy – neither rubbery nor bland.

The classic combination of mozzarella with tomatoes, basil and extra-virgin olive oil is almost unbeatable, but do choose an oil that is gentle – the balance is key if all the flavours are to shine.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627,

Mozzarella with roasted red peppers, grilled aubergines, roasted sweet potato and cannellini beans

Serves 6

1 red pepper
1 sweet potato
80ml/3fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
3 tbsp red-wine vinegar
1 aubergine
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 small bunch of marjoram, leaves only
1/2 tin cooked cannellini or borlotti beans
6 balls of mozzarella

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. Slice the pepper in half, scoop out the seeds and cut into eighths. Peel and slice the sweet potato into one-inch chunks and place in a roasting pan along with the pepper. Pour over half a tablespoon of the olive oil. Season with a little salt and pepper and add a tablespoon of the vinegar. Toss together and place on the middle shelf of the oven; roast for 30 minutes or until tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Cut the aubergine into one-inch slices. Drizzle half of the remaining olive oil over and place under a grill until golden-brown. Turn and do the same on the underside. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Once the vegetables are at room temperature, place in a bowl and drizzle over the remaining oil and vinegar, chilli, marjoram and cooked beans. Season well and mix together thoroughly. Arrange on plates along with the mozzarella. If you feel it needs it, drizzle over a little more oil just before serving.

Buffalo mozzarella with peaches, figs and San Daniele prosciutto

Of the three recipes here, this is the lightest in feel and taste – and it takes only a few minutes to prepare. Here it is pictured on an individual plate, but it is also lovely served on a large platter and placed on the middle of the table for all to share. It is important that the fruit is at its very best. Prepare this dish as close to serving as possible – preferably as you are sitting down to eat.

Serves 6

3 very ripe peaches
6 ripe figs
6 balls of mozzarella
12 slices San Daniele or Parma ham
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the basil oil

1 generous bunch of basil, leaves only
Pinch of sea salt
80ml/3fl oz olive oil

Start with the oil: chop the basil finely and place in a bowl with a pinch of salt, then pour over the oil and stir to combine. Now slice the peaches in half, remove the stones and tear into generous-sized pieces. Tear the figs and the mozzarella in half. Arrange all the ingredients attractively on a plate. Season generously with salt and pepper, spoon over the basil oil, and serve.

Mozzarella with radicchio, fennel and spinach

Serves 6

200g/7oz young spinach leaves
1 small head of radicchio
1 fennel bulb, tough outer leaves removed, sliced as finely as possible
The juice and zest of one unwaxed lemon
1 tbsp grated Parmesan
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
6 balls of mozzarella
6 anchovy fillets

Rinse the spinach well under cold running water and place in a saucepan that holds it comfortably. Place over a low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the spinach has just wilted. Remove from the heat and drain in a colander. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess moisture with your hands.

Wash and pat dry the radicchio and tear into generous-sized pieces. Place all the vegetables into a bowl and squeeze over half the lemon juice, add the Parmesan and lemon zest, season with salt and pepper and drizzle over most of the olive oil. Toss together thoroughly.

Arrange the mozzarella on plates and arrange the salad leaves alongside. Gently lay the anchovies over the finished dish. Squeeze over the rest of the lemon juice, drizzle over the remaining oil and serve.

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