Ahhh the Caprese Salad. Trending for years in America, but traditionally know as “insalata caprese” for centuries in Italy. Typically served as an “antipasti” or appetizer, rather than a salad, the caprese salad all Italian home cooks know and love consists of homegrown or local tomatoes at the peak of freshness, young garden-grown basil, thick chunks of buffalo mozzarella, and the finest olive oil you can afford.
Be warned, the recipe I am about to share violates some of the Caprese purist rules, including using baby mozzarella and balsamic vinegar. My apologies. For a true, simple, Italian recipe, try In Italy.
But as they have pointed out, Americans rarely will accept a very simple dish as-is. Our culture demands experimentation, ostentation, and exaggeration. We want to feel special, trendy, unique. We want validation for spending ten times on a meal what the ingredients to make it at home would have cost.
Enough of my soap box. Here is my at-home version of insalata caprese, enough for one light lunch portion or an appetizer for two.
Best in late summer, when tomatoes are at their peak of season and basil is cheap (or flourishing on your window sill)
- 4 oz fresh mozzarella
- 4 oz cubes fresh tomato
- 1 oz fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 oz olive oil
- 1 oz balsamic vinegar
- Garlic salt & Italian seasoning
Better yet, grow your own basil! It’s an easy plant to tend, in a garden or a container, and is usually quite prolific. Then you can enjoy the fresh scent and taste of basil in sauces, pastas, and pesto year-round.
Step 1: Put a large handful of basil leaves into a bowl. Slice the mozzarella on top. Cut the tomatoes into chunks and add those. If you’re going for a nice presentation, use a larger ball of mozzarella and larger tomatoes, and slice into thick rounds. Layer these on a dish, alternating red-white-green. Like the Italian flag.
Step 2: For the purists, at this point you should add some salt and pepper to taste, and just a drizzle of pure, high-grade olive oil. I also sprinkled on Italian seasoning (a little redundant to add dried basil to my fresh basil but hey, I love herbs!), garlic salt (because there isn’t anything that doesn’t taste better with garlic salt on it), and some balsamic vinegar.
Dig in! That’s all there is to it. This flavor combination is absolutely heavenly. The classic is of course classic for a reason. However, if this isn’t enough to satisfy your curious taste buds, try one of these variations:
- Caprese Pizza – use the same ingredients, just slice onto a pizza crust, drizzle with olive oil, and bake
- Caprese Pasta – dice the mozzarella and tomatoes into cooked pasta, warm or cold, sprinkle slivered basil on top
- Caprese Bruchetta – put the cheese, tomato, and basil on toasted bread or crostini, sprinkle with oil & vinegar & serve immediately
- Zucchini slices in addition to tomato
- Heirloom tomato slices in rainbow colors
- Pesto, parsley, or mint leaves instead of basil