One of the best known Mediterranean recipes is for a Caprese salad. This delightful salad consists of tomatoes, buffalo-milk mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. While this salad appears to be quite simple, most Caprese salads served in the United States are rubbish. The tomatoes have little taste, the mozzarella is primarily processed cow milk and the olive oil is less than “virgin.” While one can work around the inconsistencies and scarcity of buffalo-milk mozzarella and a quality extra virgin olive oil, if the tomatoes have no taste, this is a salad that should not be served.
For the most part, I only serve a Caprese salad when tomatoes are in season. I will only use fresh tomatoes purchased at a market, since most grocery-store varieties are generally not fresh and lack the requisite taste for a salad this simple. Discouraged that they can’t find tomatoes with any flavor, some of Italian friends opt for Roma or Campari tomatoes, while I will often use cherry tomatoes because they pack a lot of flavor for their size.
In any event, this is my “go-to” Caprese salad from Marcella Hazan with a slight variation since it uses red wine vinegar and a few drops of balsamic vinegar as recommended by her husband, Victor. Fellow gourmands feel that the acidity in the tomatoes is acid enough, but I like Marcella’s variation which she calls Victor’s Capri-Style Tomato and Mozzarella salad. This is from her cookbook, Marcella Cucina.
Victor’s Capri-Style Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
- 1 lb ripe, sweet cherry tomatoes
- 1 10-ounce ball of imported fresh buffalo-milk mozzarella
- 15 to 20 basil leaves depending on size
- Salt (we use sea salt)
- Black pepper fresh ground
- 2 tsps red wine vinegar
- 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
- Drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar (optional, but I recommend)
- Wash the tomatoes and slice them in half horizontally, across their middle. You should get 3 1/4 cups;
- Cut the mozzarella into 1/2-inch dice, approximately 1 1/2 cups
- Tear the basil leaves into smaller pieces by hand. You should have about 1/4 cup
- Place tomatoes, mozzarella and the basil in an ample salad bowl. Add salt, toss once; add the pepper and the vinegar, toss again; add the olive oil and toss thoroughly several times. Let the mixture rest for 20 minutes (but no more than 30) before serving with crusty or grilled slices of bread.
- We will generally drizzle a few drops of balsamic vinegar over the rested salad, but like the wine vinegar, this is optional and not used in the classic Caprese salad.
Discover more recipes using balsamic vinegar of Modena by clicking here.