Caprese Salad (Insalata Caprese in Italian) is a classic summer salad that is very simple to put together. The key to success with this salad is to use the very best ingredients you possibly can. When you use tomatoes at their peak, good quality mozzarella and olive oil and fresh picked basil, it’s truly a special dish. However, if you use sub-par ingredients and poor quality tomatoes, it can be pretty mundane. Save it for summertime – it just won’t be the same with January’s tomatoes!
This is not really even a recipe, just some guidelines on what to use for the best result. I have shown some suggestions on how to compose your salad: stacked, as a chopped salad, layered on a platter or as stuffed tomatoes. You could also toss the ingredients with pasta or layer them in a baguette for a refreshing summer sandwich.
Insalata Caprese 101
- Ripe tomatoes, in the prime of their season. Any type of tomato that is top quality will do – heirlooms are good, as are plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and cocktail tomatoes.
- Fresh mozzarella – Buffalo mozzarella is preferable but cow will also work. The best kinds can usually be found at a good cheese counter or shop and are kept in liquid. Ask your cheesemonger for recommendations. Avoid pre-packaged block mozzarella from the supermarket as it does not have the same flavour or texture.
Fresh Mozzarella Balls
- Extra virgin olive oil – A decent olive oil is essential. I typically use ones from Tuscany or Spain.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Fresh Basil. The fresher the better, preferably from your own herb garden. Don’t even think about using dried basil from a jar!
- Sea Salt. This adds the finishing touch and a salty crunch to your salad.
Putting it All Together
Now that you’ve assembled your ingredients, you can compose you salad however you choose. Typically the tomatoes, basil and cheese are layered and then sprinkled with salt and drizzled with olive oil. How you assemble your salad may depend upon the occasion:
This is an impressive presentation for an elegant first course at a dinner party. Slice a tomato into rounds, leaving the ‘lid’ in tact. Slice a very thin sliver off the bottom piece so the tomato will sit upright without rolling over. Layer a slice of tomato, a slice of mozzarella, a basil leaf and repeat for all tomato slices. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
'Stacked' Caprese Salad
This is the quickest way to put together a caprese salad and is excellent for family style dinners. Cut up tomatoes and mozzarella into chunks, chop up some basil leaf (see primer on How to chop herbs ) and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and toss everything together in a large bowl. Garnish with a basil leaf.
'Chopped' Caprese Salad
This is another good way to present the salad for buffet or family style dining. Layer slices of tomato with the cheese and basil slivers. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Garnish with a basil leaf.
'Layered' Caprese Salad (made with heirloom tomatoes - they look green but are actually ripe)
For cocktail parties, stuffing the tomato with the cheese and basil makes the perfect one-bite finger food. Cut the top 1/4 off the top of a small cocktail or grape tomato. Scoop the seeds and pulp out from inside and discard. Cut the mozzarella into small chunks and wrap each piece in basil leaf. Stuff the mozzarella into the hollowed out tomato. Drizzle stuffed tomatoes with oil and sprinkle with salt.
'Stuffed' Caprese Salad
Bon Appetit and Enjoy!