So easy to put together, this Essence of Summer Caprese Salad is made with summer's best ingredients and makes a gorgeous presentation. It's delicious served on it's own, but also makes a wonderful side for grilled entrees.
Although I've made many versions of caprese salad over the years, it seems that we never grow tired of this delicious Italian-inspired combination of ingredients. In it's most pure form, caprese salad is simply fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper. It's a magical mingling of ingredients that is, without doubt, the essence of summer.
I've taken lots of liberties with the traditional caprese ingredients in my recipes. If you check The Café archives, it seems each summer I can't help but taking caprese in a new direction. I've added fresh corn, drizzled it with balsamic reduction, created appetizers and pasta salads with roasted tomatoes.
When Scott came in a few days ago with the first beautiful tomatoes from his garden, I knew it was time for something caprese. He's growing big juicy Better Boy, Roma, Cherokee Purple, plump Lemon Yellow and miniature pear-shaped tomatoes in shades of green and gold. Oh, and his basil! It's growing absolutely crazy right now - every time I give it a "haircut", it's just as full and plentiful the next time I look!
Looking over his garden loot, I remembered a beautiful caprese salad I'd seen over on the Bon Appétit website. It's wasn't an out-of-the-ordinary caprese salad, just a beautiful play on the classic ingredients, with lots of different colored and shaped tomatoes, tiny fresh basil leaves and fresh mozzarella. Like I said, not out-of-the-ordinary, but definitely quite extraordinary!
Bon Appétit called their rendition Ultimate Caprese Salad. I'm calling mine Essence of Summer Caprese Salad as I can't think of any flavors that better capture the deliciousness of the season.
A super simple dressing...
As in a classic caprese salad, the dressing is simply a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Therefore, it calls for the best quality olive oil you have and/or can afford. For an additional layer of flavor, you can sprinkle a few drops of balsamic reduction over the tomatoes along with the olive oil.
The salad came together quickly with Scott's freshly picked tomatoes and prolific basil and it didn't take long to capture the beauty of the summer ingredients with his camera. After the photo shoot, I popped a loaf of french bread in the oven till it was hot and crusty, and served the salad alfresco on our deck. It was a fabulous breakfast (yes, breakfast!) - the kind I imagine one might enjoy on a sun-drenched terrace in Italy.
Café Tips for making this Summer Caprese Salad...
- I used buffalo mozzarella in my caprese salad, but any good quality, fresh mozzarella will be delicious. What is buffalo mozzarella? It's a light, delicate, yet full flavored fresh mozzarella that's made in Italy from water buffalo milk. It can be somewhat difficult to find. Costco carries it from time to time and I usually snatch up a bag when I see it.
- How do you know good quality mozzarella? Check the label. Good quality, fresh mozzarella should contain just four ingredients: milk (cow or buffalo), enzymes, rennet and salt. It should be smooth in appearance and will be somewhat porous (when you cut it, a few drops of white whey will come out).
- Fresh mozzarella comes in logs, medium size balls and small balls called bocconcini (about the size of an egg), ciliegine (cherry size) and pearls (pearl size).
- If your basil leaves are large, stack them on top of each other. Then roll them up like a cigar and thinly slice. This will give you a beautiful "chiffonade" of fresh basil. Wait till right before serving to add the sliced basil though, as it will discolor after it's cut.
- Pine nuts are not essential for this caprese salad, but they do add a wonderful buttery crunch. I like to toast them in a small pan for a few minutes, right before serving.
Want to capture the very essence of summer? Be sure to make this delicious caprese salad before the season slips away. I guarantee you'll be dreaming about it later this year when those cold winds blow!
What I used to prepare and present this caprese salad:
- For the pine nuts:
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- ½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- For the salad
- 2 cups small tomatoes in different sizes colors and shapes halved
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil divided
- 2 pounds mixed medium and large tomatoes cut into ¼-inch slices and/or wedges
- 4 ounces fresh mozzarella at room temperature torn into pieces
- small fresh basil leaves see notes above if using larger leaf basil
- fresh ground black pepper
- flaky sea salt I like Maldon
For pine nuts, heat oil over medium heat in a small sauté pan. Add pine nuts and kosher salt and toast for 2-3 minutes, or until starting to turn golden. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Toss small tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Set aside
Arrange large tomato slices on a platter, slightly overlapping in a random pattern. Season with flaky sea salt.
Arrange mozzarella over tomatoes; lightly season mozzarella with more salt.
Spoon cherry tomatoes over salad and drizzle generously with olive oil. Season with more freshly ground pepper.
Let stand 30 minutes to let flavors meld and release juices from tomatoes and mozzarella. Top salad with fresh basil leaves or basil chiffonade (see notes above) and pine nuts. Serve with warm, crusty bread or as a side to grilled entrees.
Adapted from Bon Appétit