Fresh Mozzarella and Basil Salad -- Caprese

Fresh Mozzarella and Basil Salad -- Caprese

The deceptively simple composition of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, sweet basil, olive oil and salt called “Insalata Caprese” (ka PRAY say), or “Caprese” Salad in North America, was developed during the early 20th century on the Isle of Capri, off the Italian coast near Naples. Delightful and refreshing, the ingredients are laid out boldly on a plate and sport the beautiful colors of the Italian flag. In Italy it’s an antipasto, or starter/appetizer course, rather than a side dish for a dinner.

The ultimate fresh mozzarella (“fior di latte,” or flower of milk) is made from buffalo ('bufala') milk, which is produced in Italy. But the more ordinary fresh domestic one, in its ball shape of various sizes, can also be luscious. The tomatoes are key. The Italian original was the San Marzano or plum type, to which our Roma is the closest. But the most important thing is that the tomatoes be ripe and flavorful. Off season, the tastiest available may be grape tomatoes. The basil should be fresh – I grow it. Good extra virgin olive oil is essential. Sea salt works well.

In the US, nontraditionally, Balsamic vinegar is sometimes sprinkled on the salad and sometimes a few capers are added. And if grape tomatoes are used, the Caprese can be served on skewers like small beautiful kebabs.

This recipe serves six as an appetizer or side dish.

2 ripe large regular tomatoes or 3 large Roma tomatoes or 1-3/4 cups of grape tomatoes

1 container (8 ounces, or more) fresh mozzarella cheese, any size

6-8 fresh basil leaves, more if small

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon capers (optional), drained

Wash the tomatoes and if using regular or Roma tomatoes, slice them 1/4-inch thick. Arrange on a serving plate or platter. If using the larger type of fresh mozzarella, slice them 1/4-inch thick. For the smaller “cherry” style mozzarella balls, leave them whole. Arrange them among the tomatoes. Sprinkle the cheese and tomatoes lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Rinse off the basil leaves. Stack them up on a cutting board and slice them in 1/8-inch slices. (Alternatively, if the leaves are small, they can be used whole.) Distribute the basil over the tomatoes and cheese. Shortly before serving, drizzle lightly with olive oil. If capers are used, drain them well and sprinkle them on the salad.

Serve with warmed Italian or French bread. 

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