My wife and I love tomatoes and Insalata Caprese is one of our favorite joys of summertime. It’s also pretty darn easy to make.
First step is to get some good tomatoes. Living in California, we can get decent tomatoes almost year round. I think they grow them in Mexico.
The best tomatoes are Heirlooms. Because of their fragile nature, they don’t ship well. Heirlooms are thus local and only available late in the summer. This year we’ve been having a cool summer, so tomatoes have been late and not as plentiful, making each bite even more precious.
Our favorites are the big ones. They come in multiple colors — red, orange, yellow — and even multi-colors. The most delicious tomatoes are the so-called “black” tomatoes, such as Paul Robesons. These tomatoes are actually red, but they have a dark green cast. We also like the red/orange striped ones, such as Mr. Stripey.
This year I have not had any luck growing tomatoes. The plants have done well. They have set good quantities of fruit, but the fruit is ripening very slowly and so far our neighborhood squirrels have eaten every single tomato we have grown.
So instead, I went to the store to get some tomatoes.
First step is to slice them up. Slicing them about 1 cm thick, I get 4 good slices from each tomato plus 2 end pieces for tasting.
Next step is to salt them. Something magic happens to tomatoes when you salt them. The salt causes a chemical reaction to the flavinoids which intensifies them. So lay the slices on a cutting board, sprinkle salt on them from a shaker, turn them over, sprinkle again, and then let them sit 5-15 minutes.
The I go out into the garden and get some basil. I need one large leaf per slice of tomato plus a little extra for garnish.
The other critical ingredient is mozzarella cheese. Mozarella is sold in balls floating in water. It’s available in big balls or small ones. Buy the big ones so you can slice them appropriately. There are inexpensive brands and expensive ones. Sadly, the expensive brands taste much better than the cheap ones. We love Insalata Caprese so much that we don’t mind paying for expensive Mozzarella.
Next step is to slice the mozzarella. It takes a patient hand. A serrated knife helps.
The I build a tower by alternating a tomato slice, then basil, then mozzarella, and repeat until I run out of ingredients or it tips over.
To garnish, I sprinkle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over it plus some cracked pepper. It’s nice to add basil chiffonade, a few olives, or a small drop of pesto if you have it. As for balsamic vinegar, our markets have some fruit flavored ones. For a long time my favorite has been a Fig Balsamic from Restaurant LuLu in San Francisco. Right now we are enjoying a Tangerine Balsamic from Marisolo in Murphys, CA.
Here’s what it looks like when I serve it.
We love to eat this with Linguine al Pesto which is a great use for the basil forest that is taking over our garden.
Actually, we’re going out to sushi tonight. We have a favorite little Japanese place that is very authentic and reminds me of the great meals I have enjoyed in Japan. More on that in another post…
Text and Photos © 2011 Allan Armstrong