Where’s the stack of mozzarella and tomato
slices? This Caprese salad is deconstructed.
Photo courtesy Great Performances | NYC.
Take advantage of the beautiful tomatoes now at farmers markets to create an elegant Caprese salad like this. There’s just a small window each year to enjoy heirloom tomatoes, so budget to have them every day, if you can.
Enjoy them in simple preparations to let their luscious flavor shine: in salads or on sandwiches, for example. One of the easiest yet most popular ways to enjoy them is in a Caprese salad.
You can also get creative: Instead of piling the slices of mozzarella and tomato in a stack or spreading them in a fan, make the deconstructed Caprese salad shown in the photo. All you need apart from the standard ingredients (see below) are red and yellow tomatoes (or green, orange or purple—heirloom tomatoes offer a rainbow of options) of different sizes, and both large and small basil leaves.
While you’re at the farmers market, pick up some exotic basil instead of the standard: dark purple opal basil, lemon basil or sweet Thai basil, for example.
CAPRESE SALAD HISTORY
Insalata Caprese (salad in the style of Capri) is a favorite of many people—perhaps all the more precious because one of its four ingredients, tomatoes (combined with basil, mozzarella di bufala and olive oil) are splendid for such a short period of each year.
Food historians can’t determine if the Caprese salad actually originated on the Italian island of Capri or if it was simply “discovered” there by tourists, but it is credited to the Campania region of Italy, on the southwest coast.
Basil is indigenous to Italy and mozzarella and olive oil have been made since ancient Roman times (olive oil is actually much older). The other key ingredients arrived much later:
Mozzarella di bufala, used today instead of cow’s milk mozzarella, arrived—around 1000 C.E.,* introduced by the Arabs to Sicily.
Tomatoes were brought back from the New World in 1529, but those original tomatoes—the size of cherry tomatoes—were first used as ornamental houseplants. Believed to be poisonous, they weren’t eaten until the mid-19th century.
However, insalata caprese became popular throughout the Western world after it became a favorite of King Farouk of Egypt, who discovered it during the a vacation to Capri in the 1950s (and probably invented the first insalata caprese sandwich—said to be his favorite way of eating it).
At some point, balsamic vinegar was offered as an addition to the plain olive oil (although fine olive oil as the sole condiment is sufficiently flavorful). Caprese salad is also called insalata tricolore, referring to the three colors of the Italian flag (green, white and red).