As promised on Wednesday, here is our version of Insalata Caprese (literally, salad of Capri). It’s quite simple, requiring only a few ingredients that come together in just a few minutes. But don’t let that fool you; with the mozzarella in the salad, this can easily make for a light meal, especially with a bit of bread to go along. If you want, you can even put it all together right on the bread, making for a delicious sandwich.
For this salad, we relied on our many years of ordering Insalata Caprese in restaurants, basically replicating the very best versions. You might have had slightly differing versions, but we’re willing to bet that the very best salads never compromise when it comes to freshness. And, when you’re scratchin’ these up yourself, you don’t have to compromise, either.
The rubbery mozzarella that you find in most stores will not work here. It’s rubbery. You want soft, moist, mozzarella, so, if possible see if you can get some in a tub surrounded by whey. No, not even those hot-house tomatoes will work here, either. You need real tomatoes. Tomatoes bursting with flavor. That means a trip to the farmers’ market. Don’t worry, it’s worth it. And, while you’re there, see if you can pick up fresh basil, too. As an aside, never refrigerate your tomatoes; they lose their flavor and become mealy. Not good. Use a good balsamic vinegar; we use the gold label kind from Trader Joe’s, but there are others that are quite good, also. Taste several and find one you like. The same goes for extra-virgin olive oil.
Procedure in detail:
Mise en place. Slice the tomatoes, wash the basil, and slice the mozzarella. A trick to make the mozzarella easier to slice is to place it in the freezer for about 15 minutes before slicing. Just giving that extra chill will make it firmer and less sticky.
Arrange. We like to arrange our salad in one long horizontal layer: tomato, cheese, basil, tomato, cheese, basil…but you can do something different. Just try to make it look nice, as presentation is an important part of eating, too.
Chill. We like our tomatoes with just the slightest chill. Not cold, mind you, because cold tomatoes lose their flavor and become mealy, but just a bit of chilliness. So, if you want that, too (and we don’t know why you wouldn’t), place the salads in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Season. This is another case where less is definitely more. You already have the main flavors on the plate, so you just want to provide a bit of an accent to them. Give everything a light sprinkle of salt and pepper (we used just a pinch of each for both salads), followed by a little drizzle of vinegar and olive oil.
Serve immediately. You don’t want the tomatoes to weep all over the plate, or the mozzarella to dry out, so, right after drizzling, bring these salads to the table.
We love Insalata Caprese! We love the mix of textures, the soft cheese, the slight crunch of basil, the juice that squeezes out of the tomato, and the interplay of the flavors, slightly tart tomatoes and vinegar, both softened by the oil and cheese. When Insalata Caprese is done right, it’s sublimely delicious, showing off the most important part of making great food: starting with the best and freshest ingredients. Once those are in hand, it’s hard to go wrong. So, depending on the quality of your ingredients, this salad could be anything from one star to a full up five stars, but we know you’ll use the best ingredients you can, so your version will be five stars, too.