You are probably wondering, “Who needs a recipe for caprese salad?” After all, it’s fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, and a little salt. But if you check out the internet, you’ll see that nearly every celebrity chef, along with all of the food websites have posted a recipe. Some call for roasted tomatoes, some call for lots of additional ingredients, some leave out one or another of the key ingredients, some with bizarre (IMHO) substitutions. Then there are the purists who insist that anything other than chunked tomatoes (I think slices are easier), “torn” pieces of homemade mozzarella (slices match the tomatoes), and torn – not cut – basil results in an inferior dish. (I readily admit that my taste buds have never been discriminating enough to taste the difference between torn or chopped greens of any sort. Also, there’s something to be said for whole leaves of fresh basil).
There are some requirements that I do agree with: The tomatoes should be as fresh as possible; just picked from the garden may be the best and those from the farmers’ market are certainly acceptable. Supermarket tomatoes are a distant third. The mozzarella should be as fresh as possible. If it is refrigerated, it will shrink and firm up a bit, but is certainly ok, especially if it comes in liquid. Mozzarella that comes in plastic-wrapped slabs from the grocery store is in the same category as supermarket tomatoes. As to the basil, the fresher the better, and for this dish I prefer ordinary sweet basil to any of the other varieties. The olive oil should be the very best you have. As to the salt, you can use it straight out of the shaker, but kosher salt or a good finishing salt make it better. Freshly ground black pepper is ok, too.
That’s it. An unspoken truth is that NOW is probably the only season to make caprese salad, while the tomatoes and basil are fresh from the garden. As to the mozzarella, I got a nice round lump at the Cheesemongers of Santa Fe. The label said that it was from Rhode Island, but it was fresh enough to satisfy my unsophisticated palate. With all of that, I feel obliged to offer a recipe for a wonderful dish that needs no recipe.
- 1 or 2 large, ripe tomatoes
- ½ to 1 pound fresh mozzarella
- fresh basil leaves
- extra virgin olive oil (the best you have)
- freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- Slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella.
- Arrange the tomato slices, mozzarella slices and basil leaves in layers on salad plates. Sprinkle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and optional ground pepper. Serve immediately.