Sounds fancy, easy to make, tastes good

Classic flavor combo leads to dozens of variations

By Bill Colvard - [email protected]

A classic Caprese salad is modernized with a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

Insalata Caprese is a very fancy name for a very simple dish. More commonly known as Caprese salad in this country, the fancy name doesn’t give the slightest hint as to just how simple and delicious it is.

Invented on the island of Capri sometime in the last century, it is one of the newer of the classic Italian dishes. Some say it was first made for King Farook of Egypt during a stay in Capri. It quickly caught on. Consisting of only three ingredients, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil, it is generally thought to be a visual representation of the red, white and green stripes of the Italian flag.

Being an Italian classic, there are rules of course. Purists insist that the basil leaves should only be whole and others say it’s alright to tear them but to never ever cut them.

The cheese should be fresh mozzarella, preferably the kind that is packed in water and is so fresh that it is still oozing liquid as you eat it. If you are close to an Italian market with swarthy, hairy armed Sicilians squeezing out balls of mozzarella in the front window of the shop, definitely buy it there. That is the real deal. But more likely, you’ll end up getting vacuum packed fresh mozzarella from the supermarket. It is still much better than processed mozzarella though not nearly as good as the kind packed in water. If you can find “mozzarella di bufala” or mozzarella made from the milk of a water buffalo, it is far richer and creamier than the cow’s milk variety. Don’t worry if you can’t find it. The original Caprese salads were made from cow’s milk mozzarella since there were no water buffaloes on Capri.

Caprese salads originally used large, beefsteak style tomatoes cut into thick slices. Nowadays, they can also be made with cut up plum tomatoes or cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half. Do cut them though because you need the juice to run a bit since it serves as the acidic part of the dressing that is formed as it mixes with the liquid oozing from the fresh mozzarella. Getting the exact amount of liquid to make the salad “not too wet, not too dry” is the hardest part of the whole process. But don’t worry too much. Whatever you do, it’s going to be delicious.

Some Italian cooks splash on a little olive oil. Others find that to be sacrilege but if you have to use vacuum packed fresh mozzarella, you’re going to need it.

A drizzle of balsamic vinegar or even a balsamic reduction or glaze has become popular of late. Purists cringe. Decide for yourself.

The Caprese police will tell you that the basic recipe should never be altered in any way or adapted into something else like an omelette or a pasta salad. Don’t listen to them because they are wrong. Even old King Farook ate his Caprese salad on a sandwich which is not a bad idea at all.

Such a heavenly combination of flavors should not be limited to one dish. Especially now while fresh tomatoes and basil are so delicious and plentiful, let your imagination run wild. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Caprese salad

3 perfect ripe tomatoes

12 ounces fresh mozzarella, thickly sliced

Large bunch fresh basil leaves

Olive oil, for drizzling

Large pinch kosher salt

Large pinch freshly ground black pepper

Balsamic reduction or glaze (optional)

Cut the tomatoes into thick slices. Arrange them on a platter, alternating them with the mozzarella slices. Tuck the whole basil leaves in between the tomato and cheese slices. Drizzle on balsamic reduction, if using. Then drizzle olive oil in a thin stream over the top. Finally, sprinkle on salt and pepper.

Caprese Salad Kabobs

24 grape tomatoes

12 cherry-size fresh mozzarella cheese balls

24 fresh basil leaves

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. balsamic vinegar

On each of 12 wooden appetizer skewers, alternately thread two tomatoes, one cheese ball and two basil leaves; place on a serving plate. In a small bowl, whisk the oil and vinegar; drizzle over kabobs just before serving.

Baked Panzanella Caprese

This recipe was originally credited to Giada De Laurentiis. It is grilled cheese meets meets bread pudding pizza.

Butter, for greasing baking sheet

5 summer tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 (8-ounce) balls fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices and patted dry with paper towels

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 packed cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Olive oil, for drizzling

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 to 8 (1/2-inch thick) slices country white bread

Put an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Butter a 9 by 12-inch rimmed baking sheet. Set aside. Arrange the tomato slices on the bottom of the baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar. Lay the cheese slices on top in a single layer. Sprinkle with the garlic and basil and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Arrange the bread slices on top and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 25 minutes until the filling is bubbling and the bread is crisp and golden. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Caprese Grilled Cheese Sandwich

This recipe uses pesto instead of fresh basil leaves.

4 slices bread

2 tbsp. olive oil

4 tbsp. basil pesto

1 ball fresh mozzarella, room temperature, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 large ripe tomato, room temperature, sliced 1/4 inch thick

salt and pepper to taste

Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat. Brush the outside of each slice of bread with oil, spread the pesto on the inside, place the mozzarella on the pesto on of one slice of bread, top with the tomato, season with salt and pepper and finally top the other slice of bread pesto side in. Add the sandwich and grill until golden brown and the cheese has melted, about 2-4 minutes per side.

Caprese Omelette

3 eggs

1-2 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese

1 medium tomato

1 small bunch of fresh basil

1 tbsp. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the filling by rinsing the basil, patting it dry, then cutting into small shreds. Next, chop the tomato into 1/2″ pieces, and finally, cut your mozzarella cheese into small 1/8″ thick rounds (thinner slices melt better). Beat eggs well until they are light and fluffy-looking in the bowl. A few drops of water gives fluffier eggs. Heat the olive oil (or butter, if you’re a traditional omelette maker) in a pan over medium high heat until hot and add eggs. Swirl your pan around until the egg coats the entire bottom and some of the sides. When the eggs bubble, take your spatula and pierce the steam bubble, tilting your pan to fill the hole with the remaining eggs. Continue this process until the eggs stop bubbling and reduce heat to medium. Sprinkle a tiny pinch each of salt and pepper, place the mozzarella rounds in the omelette and cover for about 90 seconds, or just until the cheese starts to soften. At this point you will want to start using your spatula to help loosen the omelette from the pan, making sure it doesn’t break in the process. Once you’ve loosened it most of the way, add the tomatoes and basil shreds. Flip one side of the omelette on top of the other with your spatula and cook for about 20 seconds. Slide the omelette onto a plate, garnish with extra diced tomato and a sprig of basil on top, add some good, crusty Italian bread for a side if desired. (Don’t worry too much if your omelette breaks while flipping. It will still taste the same, you just have Caprese Eggs, instead.)

Caprese Pizza

1 recipe homemade pizza dough or store bought pizza dough

1 tbsp. olive oil

8 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced

2 large ripe tomatoes, sliced

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Handful fresh basil, chopped

Balsamic glaze

Preheat oven to 450° F. If using refrigerated pizza dough, remove dough from refrigerator and allow dough to come to room temperature while oven preheats. Place pizza dough on a lightly floured surface. Roll pizza dough out into a circle. Make a thicker crust along edges of pizza. Brush olive oil evenly over the dough. Arrange mozzarella slices evenly over dough and top with sliced tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle basil over pizza. Place in preheated oven and bake for 10-12 minutes or until crust is browned and cheese is bubbly. Remove pizza from oven and drizzle with balsamic glaze. Cut into slices and serve warm.

Balsamic Glaze

Sometimes called Balsamic cream. Intensely flavored and best used for drizzling over things.

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp. brown sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Pour the balsamic vinegar in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil the vinegar for 2 minutes until reduced by half. In a small bowl, mix the sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and pepper together with a whisk until sugar is dissolved. Whisk the vinegar into the sugar mixture until well blended.

Caprese Pizza Dip

1 pint/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved

1 tbsp. + 2 tsp. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

8 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temp

10 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

¼ cup + 2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup basil leaves, chopped roughly

Salt and pepper to taste

A pinch of dried oregano

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place tomato halves on top. Drizzle with 2 tsp. olive oil and salt, then bake for 12 – 17 minutes. Take out of the oven and set aside. While tomatoes are roasting, mix softened cream cheese with mozzarella and ¼ cup Parmesan. Stir in fresh basil, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper – mixing well to combine. Place the tomatoes at the bottom of a baking dish, top it with the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan, drizzle 1 tbsp. oil on top. Bake for 20 – 22 minutes, or until top is golden and bubbly. Serve immediately with crackers, chips, or toasted crusty bread.

Fried Caprese Salad

1 large tomato – sliced into 3 — 1/2” rounds


1 cup all purpose flour

1 egg – beaten

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1 cup canola oil

fresh mozzarella, sliced into 3 — 1/2” rounds

6 fresh basil leaves

balsamic glaze

Season tomato slices with salt and pepper and place onto a plate lined with paper towels. Set aside. Place flour, egg, and panko into 3 separate shallow bowls for dredging. Dip tomato slice into flour. Lightly tap to remove excess. Dip into egg and then into panko. Transfer to plate and continue with remaining tomatoes. Into a medium sized skillet add oil and heat over medium heat. When hot, add tomato slices and cook for approximately 30 seconds on each side or until golden. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Season with salt. To assemble: tomato, mozzarella, 3 basil leaves. Continue with two additional layers. Garnish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze.

Pasta Caprese salad

1/2 lb. orecchiette pasta

kosher salt

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 lb. cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tbsp. basil pesto

1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella (small balls if available, otherwise cut into bite size pieces)

fresh basil (if small and tender, leave whole, otherwise chiffonade.)

shaving of Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)

fresh cracked black pepper

toasted pine nuts or walnuts (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a pinch of kosher salt. Add pasta and cook till al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain pasta. Under cook a little. It will cook a bit more later. Do not rinse. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook for 30 seconds. Add pasta and pesto. Cook 1 minute, stirring to coat pasta with the pesto. Add the mozzarella. Stir to incorporate. Add the fresh basil and remove from the heat. Divide pasta among bowls and sprinkle each with some fresh shavings of Parmigiano. Crack the pepper over the top and serve.

Chicken Caprese salad

Marinated and grilled chicken breasts and some salad greens takes a Caprese salad from first course to main course.

4 chicken breasts

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

6 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed

arugula or spinach

fresh basil

olive oil, for drizzling

Toss a few chicken breasts with olive oil, dried basil, and paprika, plus some salt and pepper. Let them sit for a few minutes. Then heat up your grill and cook on high heat for about 7-8 minutes per side until the breasts are cooked through. Try not to overcook them. Let the chicken rest for a few minutes so the juices can redistribute in the meat and then just chop them up. About a chicken breast per person is a good gauge if you’re serving this as a meal. If you are using it as an appetizer, half a chicken breast per person would be just fine. Cut cherry tomatoes in half and cut mozzarella into bite sized pieces. When you are ready to serve the salad, toss the chicken in with the cheese and tomatoes and drizzle in some good olive oil. Then add your greens at the very last minute. If you add them too early, they will get soggy. Dice up some fresh basil and add.

A classic Caprese salad is modernized with a drizzle of balsamic reduction. classic Caprese salad is modernized with a drizzle of balsamic reduction.
Classic flavor combo leads to dozens of variations

By Bill Colvard

[email protected]

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