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.)

Ruth Reichl’s delicious deviled eggs recipe

My favorite food writer is Ruth Reichl, former food critic of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, editor of Gourmet magazine, book author (Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, Not Becoming My Mother, and more) and a wonderful tweeter to follow on Twitter.

Her tweets are poetry, jewels of sensual delight. Here’s a recent one:

Late spring. Damp green grass beneath my feet. A flock of tiny yellow birds. Local strawberries, so sweet, drenched in thick Jersey cream.

Doesn’t that make you want to hang out with Ruth, wherever she is? She’s so present, so alive, so appreciative.

She wrote about how to make deviled eggs, and I learned several things:

  • Fresh eggs do not peel well. Get farm or backyard organic eggs from free-range chickens and let them sit in the fridge for a week before hard-boiling.
  • The term “deviled” was used starting in the 18th century to refer to spicy foods, such as deviled eggs and deviled ham. They are also called “stuffed eggs” and “mimosa eggs”.
  • If you want perfectly centered egg yolks, store the eggs on their sides.
  • Bring cold water with eggs in it to a boil, then cover and turn off the heat for exactly 12 minutes.
  • After cooking, immediately chill the eggs in a bowl of ice water to prevent the greenish tinge on the outside of the cooked yolk.

I made deviled eggs yesterday, before I read this article. They are so easy and yummy in summer! I use store-bought mayo (made with olive oil—Ruth provides the recipe for homemade—click the link above) and topped each filled egg with paprika and exactly three capers.

Below, two eggs are store-bought organic, and two are from Hal’s backyard chickens. Guess which is which? Also notice the greenish tinge on one of the yolks. That egg must not have cooled quickly enough!

My granddaughter, who turns 12 today, has a shortcut to get deviled egg flavor without the work: She peels a hard-boiled egg, cuts it in half, and smears a little yellow prepared mustard on it. Pop it in your mouth, and voila! Quick and easy!