When tomatoes are growing like crazy in my step-mom’s garden, it’s nearly guaranteed that insalata caprese will be on the table during family dinner. That is, if it makes it that far.
The first time I had this dish was at my uncle’s wedding maybe 8-9 years ago. His new bride (now my aunt) is Italian and for dinner they served a full seven course meal. Having seven different plates served to me for one meal was an experience in and of itself, but I’ll never forget it when the insalata caprese arrived.
First, I had no idea what it was. I recognized the tomatoes – that was easy. But the big slices of white stuff? No clue. My culinary skills were slim at the time, and that’s putting it mildly.
Someone clued me in that it was mozzarella cheese. And I seriously thought they were kidding. You mean, the cheese they put on pizza could come sliced like that?!
Thankfully I’ve learned a few things about food since then. 😉
Not wanting to be rude, I cut a portion of the tomatoes and mozzarella cheese and scooped up a piece of basil. Then I used the tomatoes and cheese to mop up the olive oil, salt and pepper that was drizzled and sprinkled about the plate.
And my taste buds rejoiced.
Now years later, caprese salad (what us non-Italian folks tend to call it) is one of my favorite dishes. In fact, I had some leftovers yesterday for breakfast! When I saw the bag of marked down tomatoes last week at the grocery store, I knew this is what I was doing with them.
This dish is 100% real food – nothing fake here. And with tomato plants blooming, it can be incredibly frugal. Buy fresh mozzarella in bulk (we prefer the kind in water) and pull out your quality olive oil – it’s the star of the show.
Some variations include balsamic vinegar as well, which adds a fun tang to the dish. Freshly ground salt and pepper add a kick of flavor, but the regular stuff is tasty too.
#1: Insalata Caprese Stacks
Slice tomatoes and mozzarella 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick. Layer each between leaves of basil, OR chop up the basil and sprinkle on top. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper.
This variation is best when you’re wanting to impress. Ingredients can be prepared ahead of time, layered on the plate and even set on the table beforehand. Drizzle olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar just before serving.
#2: Insalata Caprese Salad
Roughly chop large tomatoes or slice grape tomatoes and place in a large bowl. Cut fresh mozzarella into 1/2″ cubes. Roughly chop basil leaves and mix well with tomatoes and cheese. Liberally drizzle olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar over the ingredients and mix well. Let sit for 10-20 while flavors meld. Sprinkle with salt and pepper just before serving.
This variation is best when hosting several people or for bringing pot lucks. Like the stacks, ingredients can be prepared ahead of time and the olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar can be drizzled right before you leave the house.
#3: Insalata Caprese Flat-breads
Cut 1/2″ thick slices of bread (sourdough or rosemary olive oil bread would both be delicious). Toast bread until golden brown. Smear one side with pesto and place one 1/2″ thick slice of tomato on top. Place 1/2″ thick slice of mozzarella on top of the tomato and place under a broiler until cheese begins to melt and turn light brown in places. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped basil. Dip in plates filled with a olive oil/balsamic vinegar combination.
This variation makes an excellent finger food for a first course, as a main-meal open faced sandwich or even an accompaniment to a batch of tomato basil soup. See below for additional ideas.
#4: Insalata Caprese Soup
Prepare a batch of tomato basil soup and ladle into oven-proof bowls. Cut 1/2″ thick slices of bread (sourdough or rosemary olive oil would both be delicious). Toast bread until golden brown. Smear one side with pesto and place it on top of the soup. Layer one 1/2″ thick slice of tomato on top, followed by one 1/2″ thick slice of mozzarella. Place the entire bowl in the broiler until the cheese begins to melt and turn light brown in places. Sprinkle with salt, pepper. Lightly drizzle olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar.
If you do not have oven-safe bowls, you can prepare the flat-bread recipe above and place on top of bowls of hot soup just before serving.
This variation is exceptional for the average dinner at home, but can also be used when entertaining guests. Cool, end-of summer nights fit the bill perfectly when tomatoes are dwindling and you’re not ready to let them go.