Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Caprese Salad

As we head towards the end of summer, we offer another seasonal recipe that takes full advantage of the beautiful summer tomatoes. Insalata caprese or Caprese salad is simple food at its best; slicing the cheese and the tomatoes is the hardest part. According to, the salad was created in the 1950s at the Trattoria da Vincenzo on the island of Capri for regulars out for a light lunch. They'd order a just-picked tomato and fresh fior di latte (cow's-milk mozzarella — no water buffalo on Capri), with a bit of wild arugula and dried oregano.

Traditionally, the dressing is always a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil — and that's it. Vinegar is never used on Capri, as purists believe it ruins the delicate flavor of the mild cheese. But, we think the balsamic vinegar adds a nice zing. Because this salad is so simple, top-rate ingredients are imperative. You need to get the ripest summer tomatoes, fresh mozzarella (forget about the rubbery mozzarella wrapped in plastic), and the best balsamic vinegar you can afford. It is positively divine with aged balsamic vinegar but even an inexpensive balsamic is delicious.

This is a salad that must be eaten as soon as it is made. It does not get better as it sits. As in Capri, consider this a light entree. Or share with someone you love. It's a bit of an extravagance but summer tomatoes are worth it.

Slicing dead-ripe tomatoes is not easy with a chef's knife unless it is incredibly sharp. A serrated knife (a bread knife or a serrated steak knife) is the best tool for slicing soft, squishy tomatoes.

Caprese Salad
(serves 1 as a light entree, 2 as a side salad or appetizer)

1 large tomato, sliced about ½ inch thick
4 oz. fresh mozzarella (fior di latte), sliced about ½ inch thick
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
black pepper
1 basil leaf, cut into ribbons (see Note on how to do this)

Layer the cheese and tomato sliced on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Be generous with the olive oil but stingy with the balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Scatter basil ribbons on top. Enjoy!

Note: To cut basil into ribbons, roll up the basil leaf starting at the tip and rolling towards the stem end. You'll end up with a little basil cigar. Slice as thinly as you can across the cigar. You'll end up with very delicate basil ribbons. This type of cut is called chiffonade.

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