Summer means fresh tasty tomatoes and not the red globes that try to pass for them the rest of the year (those SHOULD be given another name). Even in summer real tomatoes are hard to find unless you are lucky enough to grow your own. Tomatoes and basil were meant to be together. This really is the taste of summer.
The first time I was had Caprese Salad was at my friend Jane’s home near Paris a couple of years before I moved there. This simple blend of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil with an olive oil and vinegar dressing has become a favourite in all its variations chez Jan. Jane is a fabulous cook and her version used “Vinaigre de vin aromatise noix” or walnut flavoured vinegar. It was such a fabulous new taste sensation that I had to import a bottle or two to Canada to impress my friends with my new secret ingredient. I did find it later in Toronto at one of the fruit and vegetable markets on the Danforth. My preference is the Maille brand (in Paris, buy it from Monoprix or other grocery stores rather than the Maille store on Place Madelaine for a better bargain).
Mozzarella is a semi-soft white cheese with a spongy texture. It is made from either cows milk or buffalo milk (mozzarella di Bufala). It is a cheese which can be found in un-pasteurized or pasteurized varieties. In Canada, think of Bocconcini, the small balls of mild buffalo cheese rather than the hard, stringy balls sold as mozzarella. Buffalo mozzarella has a softer texture and slightly stronger flavour. In Europe, mozzarella balls are packaged in plastic bags with whey or water.
The recipe here calls for tomatoes and mozzarella to be cut in rounds. It can also be made with cherry tomatoes – for this I suggest that you either cut large mozzarella balls into chunks that roughly match te size of the tomatoes or use the tiny mozzarella balls.
Insalata caprese (Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil Salad)
4 large tomatoes, sliced
400 g (14 oz/ 2 cups) fresh mozzarella, cut into rounds
8-10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
60 mL (4Tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
30 mL (2 Tbsp) balsamic or walnut vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Arrange the tomato and mozzarella overlapping slices on a serving dish. Decorate with basil. Sprinkle with olive oil and vinegar. Season with pepper to taste.