The simplest thing you can do to a perfect tomato is to slice it and eat it, maybe with a sprinkle of salt. And when you have a brilliant August or September tomato that may well be enough.
But say you want to do 3 more minutes worth of work (work is a kind of silly word here – slicing isn’t really much work, right?), and get a dish that pretty much defines what late summer is all about – making a meal without turning on the stove, with a bent towards simplicity and clean flavors. Fast, easy, beautiful. Tomato and Mozzarella Caprese is the poster child for this kind of “cooking”.
As for which kind of tomatoes, red, yellow, orange, striped, smooth, lumpy, heirloom, all are fair game. If you live near a farmers markets, there is that moment where the tables are piled high with all kinds of crazy looking tomatoes with funny names; Green Zebra, Brandywine, Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom, Mortgage Lifter, Black Crim, Purple Calabash, just to name a few. Grab them all.
Anyway, enough preamble – here’s how to make a Caprese salad (and a more formal recipe follows as well).
Slice a couple of gorgeous ripe (but not too soft) tomatoes, not too thin. And then find the best fresh mozzarella you can, and slice that up. If you can buy the mozz where it is made you may be able to purchase it still warm, having never seen the inside of a refrigerator. This is a whole other level of mozzarella pleasure.
Your tomatoes should NEVER be refrigerated (unless you absolutely see them turning to mush and need to get another day or two out of them, but that’s a total last resort). So, in a perfect world your mozzarella caprese salad will consist of room temperature ingredients that have never been chilled at all.
Alternate slices of tomatoes and mozzarella on a plate, fanning them so you can see the gorgeous red-and-white pattern.
Stack up a bunch of fresh basil leaves one on top of the other. Roll them up fairly tightly, then cut the rolled up leaves crosswise into thin slices, which will unfurl into skinny ribbons. Sprinkle those over the tomatoes and mozzarella.
Drizzle some olive oil, the best you have, over the whole thing. Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Sometimes it’s nice to lightly sprinkle the caprese with good balsamic vinegar as well, which adds a much more sweetly intense note. I usually stick to olive oil, but sometimes I add on the balsamic – it’s a mood thing.
Garnish with a few little sprigs of fresh basil, if you like. And that’s it. A bottle of wine, a crusty baguette. Anything else is optional at best.
How to Make Tomato and Mozzarella Caprese Salad
- 4 ripe tomatoes any color
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella
- 4 to 6 fresh basil leaves
- Good extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Good balsamic vinegar to taste, optional
- Alternate slices of tomatoes and mozzarella on a plate, overlapping them so you can see some of each of the slices – you might have the right amount to alternate every other one, but it doesn't matter. It depends upon the size and thickness of your slices of both the tomatoes and the mozzarella.
- Stack up the basil leaves one on top of the other. Roll them up fairly tightly, then cut the rolled up leaves crosswise into thin slices, as thin as you like. Sprinkle those over the tomatoes and mozzarella.
- Drizzle the olive oil over the top – don’t be shy with it. Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. If you like, sprinkle the plate lightly with the balsamic vinegar as well.
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