Caprese Salad (Insalata Caprese in Italian) is a classic summer salad that is very simple to put together. It is both gorgeous to look at and eat. However, would you expect anything less from a dish that is named after a picturesque island of the southern coast of Italy?
With summer finally landing its two feet into the year, salads are a natural choice for a nice, leisurely lunch, or even as a suppertime accompaniment. Caprese salad can immediately become a dinnertime entrée simply by increasing its portion size, while serving some rustic sourdough bread and a great chilled white glass of wine.
The simple ingredient combination is what makes this salad stand out from the rest: fresh mozzarella cheese, ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. And even though additions to the ingredients list would alter it's traditional standing as an Italian Insalata Caprese, some foodies may even indulge in a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Another worthwhile addition would be to add some spring mix or arugula, giving the salad a peppery note that compliments its flavors.
The key to success with this salad, as with any dish, is to use the very best ingredients you possibly can. Organic, local, ripe tomatoes straight from the farmer’s market – need I say more? Use a good quality mozzarella, buffalo preferably or bocconcini, a full-bodied, extra virgin olive oil with a nice fruity flavor, and fresh picked Sweet Italian basil is the natural choice; but, if that is not an option, then a drizzle of some good quality pesto is a great substitute. Lastly, a flaky kosher salt, such as Fleur de Sel would be a worthwhile finish for this dish.
It’s truly a special concoction, with its bold, fresh flavors. So, save the Caprese for the summertime, while farmer markets are buzzing. Besides, it just won’t be the same with January’s tomatoes!
To assemble your salad the traditional way: Slice the cheese and tomatoes in quarter-inch thick slices. You can either chiffonade the basil (by stacking leaves together, rolling them tightly and slicing through lengthwise with a sharp knife, to create thin strips) or use whole leaves. Put several slices of tomato on the plate; top each with a slice of cheese. Drizzle with olive oil (and balsamic vinegar if using). Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and garnish with basil.
Note: You can create individual plates or a big platter to serve at the table by using cherry tomatoes and bocconicini. Pour yourself a nice glass of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc as this would be a delicious pairing with this salad. On the other hand, if you are red wine enthusiast, you can’t go wrong with a nice Chianti. Cut up some fresh sourdough bread to mop up the tasty olive oil and tomato juices accumulated at the bottom of your plate. Trust me when I tell you that this is the best part.
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