Living in Northern California, with a generally moderate climate, I do feel spoiled by the constant flurry of good fresh foods I have access to. While I am cognoscente of it, I have an indulginest attitude. Ergo- I am lucky, I am appreciative, and I enjoy every opportunity to partake in the available local bounty. This time of year the bounty is abundant with the most succulent tomatoes and fresh herbs.
Good produce makes for great food. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a great cook to prepare delicious food. What you need is access to good seasonal products. Insalata Caprese is a simple and yet deliciously memorable salad with origins that trace back to the Neapoitan island of Capri. The secret to taking this dish to its full potential comes down to two things– the right ingredients during the right season – summer!
To make this traditional dish a standout, select flavorful vine ripened tomatoes with a bit of firmness; they should not be overly soft and ideally not refrigerated. Next find some fragrant young basil and good quality wet mozzarella. If it is possible to find fresh mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) or Fior di latte (which is mozzarella made from cow’s milk) buy it! Lastly, be certain to use a high quality genuine extra-virgin olive oil.
To assemble the dish, slice the fresh mozzarella and tomatoes into discs of moderate thickness. On a platter, or individual plates, alternate slices of tomato and mozzarella creating an overlapping effect or stack rounds of tomato topped with rounds of mozzarella. Sprinkle basil leaves generously over the slices, adding salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil just before serving as to avoid making the cheese moist. Since I am not a true traditionalist, I do put a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar over the top. To put a slightly different delicious spin on it, add fresh pesto drizzled across the tomatoes or sprinkle toasted almonds,pine nuts or pepitas.
This makes an excellent summer lunch or, in a small portion, an ideal first course for a summer meal.
2-3 large tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
16 oz fresh mozzarella cheese
3 tsps balsamic vinegar
1 TBS olive oil
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
sliced almonds, toasted (optional)
pepitas, toasted (optional)
pine nuts, toasted (optional)
Arrange by alternating slices of tomato, mozzarella cheese, and few leaves of basil (beginning and ending tomatoes) decoratively on a serving platter or alternatively stack rounds of tomato topped with rounds of mozzarella.
Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If using optional items, sprinkle evenly over mozzarella and tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if desired.