It’s an addiction. If you’re following on Instagram you have proof of my total, sold-out, one-track, amore di caprese. I love delicious tomatoes, basil is one of my all time favorite herbs, and then there’s fresh buffalo’s milk mozzarella or better yet, burrata… just TALK TO ME. For as long as I’ve been cooking and eating, there’s been a lot of “insalata caprese” in my life. They began very formulaic and mundane. You know: slice of tomato, with a slice of mozzarella, topped with a basil leaf. And repeat. A little olive oil and balsamic and it’s done. Sadly, I still see these caprese stereotypes everywhere I go. Lacking in imagination and lacking in what could be even better flavor.
So, I’m sharing an Instagram shot to show you that in this case, breaking the “rules” is just prettier, tastier, and way more fun. There’s something so satisfying when you cut into a fresh round of mozzarella or burrata, so the ol’ slice and stack method is a kill-joy for you and everyone else. I also tend to prefer smaller cherry or grape sized tomatoes which have more flavor than big, round, run-of-the-mill red hothouse tomatoes. Gorgeous heirlooms in season are my exception to this rule — in this case, bigger can be better. And adding a tiny bit of acid with some fresh squeezed lemon juice just plays up all the bright flavors, and balances the heavier flavor of oregano. Yes, that’s right. Dried oregano. Very traditional and very delicious. Cannot be skipped. And finally, aside from a generous drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, there MUST be good sea salt which creates both crunch and brings out the best in a tomato. Finally, almost never pictured is the aged balsamic vinegar. This, in my opinion, is something each person should add to their own serving of caprese. Adding it before it’s served muddies the presentation and I think it should be drizzled in the amount each person has a taste for.
It’s really that simple. So go out and find the best ingredients you can lay your hands on, and enjoy.
Recipe by Stephanie Kunstle
Note: serves about 4 to 6 if you’re behaving yourself, but to be honest, this will often serve two of us if we make it the main part of our lunch with some rustic bread..and why not?
Fast Fact: The word “caprese” (pronounced ca-pray-say but with flourish) means from Capri. This is simply a salad named for its location of origin, the island of Capri.
- a large round of mozzarella di bufala, or burrata
- good tomatoes, in season, preferably grown in the sun
- plenty of fresh basil, just picked from the plant if you can get it
- a large pinch of dried oregano
- half a lemon
- good extra virgin olive oil
- 3-4 good pinches of an extra delicious salt, like maldon or fleur de sel
- Place your mozzarella or burrata on a plate or platter. Surround it with tomatoes…sliced or not, it’s up to you. If they are large, do at least chunk them to make serving easier.
- Arrange fresh basil leaves however you wish. Sometimes I julienne them and scatter the ribbons all over. Other times I tear the leaves, and scatter. Or I will leave them whole and create a bouquet to pull from as the caprese is served. It’s up to you. It’s your artistic interpretation of caprese.
- Gently squeeze the lemon over the arrangement. You don’t want tons of lemon juice, but a gentle drizzle evenly distributed.
- Now drizzle generously with a good extra virgin olive oil, hitting the tomatoes, cheese, and basil.
- Crush the dried oregano in your palm with your fingers or crush between your fingers as you lightly scatter it over the tomatoes and cheese.
- Finally, add your salt to the arrangement, giving an extra heavy hand to the top of the cheese for texture.
- Serve with a good bottle of aged balsamic (truly, this stuff can be liquid gold both in price and in flavor…and so worth it).