The easiest, tastiest summer salad imaginable: insalata caprese

Last Sunday, it was my turn to cook dinner for my friend. I wanted to serve food that was healthy, seasonal, and delicious, and I went to the farmer’s market on Saturday for inspiration.

Heirloom tomatoes are in season, and they are exceptionally delicious. However, they don’t keep for a long time like the modern tomatoes do. Eat ’em right up is what I say, and never let them see the inside of your refrigerator. Buy organic, please. Support your health and the growers. Or grown your own.

I have been known to get home with an heirloom tomato and eat it immediately, standing over the sink to catch the juice.

In hindsight, I could have invited my friend to do the same—that would have made the dinner memorable, and it would have been a fun surprise—but alas, that didn’t occur to me at the time.

Instead, I served insalata caprese, which Wikipedia tells me means “salad in the style of the island of Capri.” Capri is an island off the coast of southern Italy (the front of the “ankle” of Italy’s boot). That area, Campania (where Naples and Mount Vesuvius are also located), has a rich gastronomic history, being the birthplace of pizza and spaghetti, as well as being one of the first areas of Europe to fall in love with that New World wonder, the tomato.

Insalata caprese sounds fancy, particularly when you say it with an Italian accent (try it: een-suh-LAHH-tuh kuh-PRAY-say), but it is almost as simple as eating over the sink. Here are the ingredients to assemble:

  • one large, ripe Brandywine tomato without soft spots
  • eight or so large fresh basil leaves
  • mozzarella cheese (I used Whole Foods brand without rBGH)
  • organic extra-virgin olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar (if you’re adventurous, try this version over the supermarket stuff—a little goes a very long way and although expensive, it’s not astronomical like some)
  • freshly ground salt (I love Himalayan pink salt)
  • freshly ground pepper
  1. With a serrated knife, slice the stem end off the tomato and cut the remainder into four thick slices. Put slices on plates (one or two per salad plate, or all four on a dinner plate for a full meal for one greedy tomato lover, ahem).
  2. Being careful not to crush them, slice the basil leaves crosswise and evenly distribute on top of the tomatoes.
  3. Slice the mozzarella and distribute evenly over tomatoes.
  4. Drizzle olive oil over each tomato slice.
  5. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over each slice.
  6. Season with freshly ground salt and pepper to taste.

That’s it. You will need a knife and fork. Now indulge in some summer bliss!

(You will want to drink the juices left on the plate and then lick the plate. I won’t tell.)

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