Caprese, fancy word, simple salad. An Italian would scoff at the idea that there would be a recipe for Caprese. What you see is what you get. Perfectly ripe, garden-fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of sea salt.
The simplest of salads
Resist the temptation to add ruffles and bows, like garlic or balsamic. Instead, savor each bite. The juxtaposition of sun ripened tomatoes, the texture of the creamy, smooth mozzarella, the pungent bite of the licorice scented basil, the buttery rich olive oil, and the pop of the sea salt on your tongue, bringing all the notes together in the symphony in your mouth.
(This post was originally published on July 18th, 2012. As an Amazon Affiliate I earn commission on qualifying purchases)
Let’s go into more detail about the ingredients in a caprese salad.
Caprese salad is a dish made for the summer. Store-bought greenhouse tomatoes bought in the middle of winter just won’t taste the same. Garden fresh tomatoes are best. I like to pick mine in the afternoon while they’re still warm. Tomatoes from your neighborhood farmer’s market are a great option too. Note: Do not store tomatoes in the refrigerator. Chilling them will dull their flavor.
Mozzarella cheese is a fresh Italian cheese traditionally made from buffalo milk (mozzarella di bufala). Most mozzarella cheese in the US is made from cow’s milk. While it might be difficult to find true mozzarella di buffalo, most towns or cities have either international grocery stores or Italian grocery store which generally carry high quality mozzarella cheese.
Seek out an Italian grocer in your area or a good cheese store if you’d like to find authentic mozzarella. Fresh mozzarella will be packed in brine and is best eaten within a couple of days. Avoid “low moisture” mozzarella, which is usually sealed in plastic and not packaged in brine. It will be drier and you’ll miss out on the moist and creamy texture of the cheese.
This one’s easier to get right. Only fresh will do, but it’s easy to get fresh basil in the grocery store or Trader Joe’s unless you’re lucky enough to grow it in your yard. You can read more basil here.
The same applies to the olive oil. Since the olive oil is one of the stars of this show, please buy the best quality extra virgin olive oil you can afford. This is the time to pull out your favorite olive oil. I keep several bottles of olive oil with different flavor profiles The most expensive one I use for the “drizzle” or for making salad dressing. A nice olive oil should have a fruity smooth flavor. This is really a personal taste preference. Choose one you love.
The salt you sprinkle on your salad is just as important as the rest of the ingredients. Use kosher or coarse sea salt but whatever you do, don’t use table salt! as regular table salt is too salty. A nice large flake salt like this flaky sea salt is perfect!
Black pepper: Finish the salad with a nice crack of black pepper.
Is balsamic vinegar used on a caprese salad?
Balsamic vinegar is not traditionally drizzled on a caprese salad. A restaurant serving balsamic vinegar on a caprese salad is most likely trying to mask inferior ingredients. This is a salad that stands on its own. Resist the urge to add balsamic vinegar, especially since most “balsamic” vinegar sold in the US is not truly balsamic vinegar from Modena anyway.
Assembling the caprese salad
This is one salad you’ll want to prepare just before serving for best flavor. Don’t cut the mozzarella or tomatoes too thin. If you are making individual salads, you can stack the ingredients.
If serving 4 or more, arrange the salad on a platter. The basil leaves can be scattered, or tucked. The idea is to get a bite that has tomato, mozzarella and basil all in one bite. Simply delicious!
- Wash, core and slice the tomatoes about 1/4" thick.
- Slice mozzarella about 1/4" thick. Layer tomatoes, basil and mozzarella on a plate. Drizzle each "stack" with olive oil. Season with kosher or sea salt, (coarse, not fine) and fresh cracked black pepper to taste.
- Use the freshest tomatoes and basil you can find.
- Avoid using low moisture mozzarella. Brine packed mozzarella is best.
- Use sea salt or coarse kosher salt.
Here are a few more recipes with a caprese “twist”. Summer Pasta Salad with Mozzarella and Basil
For a more substantial meal, what about this Grilled Caprese Panino with Pesto?
Below is a different way of presenting a Caprese salad. This was served as part of our antipasto course in Lugano Switzerland.