The classic insalata Caprese demonstrates how simple, fresh ingredients can become a sublime dish. A Neapolitan classic named after the island of Capri, insalata Caprese layers slices of ripe, juicy tomatoes with creamy fresh mozzarella and peppery leaves of fresh basil. Top it all with just a drizzle of high quality olive oil and you've got a quintessential Italian dish that is best served in summer, when the ingredients are at their best.
Select the highest quality ingredients. Opt for locally grown, ripe tomatoes; fresh buffalo mozzarella; fresh, young basil leaves; extra virgin olive oil; sea salt; and coarsely ground black pepper.
Slice the tomatoes into 1/4-inch thick slices. Serve them right away, or allow them to sit in a small amount of olive oil and a pinch of salt for an hour before assembly. If you marinate them in the oil, drain them before continuing and reserve the residual juice to drizzle over the top of the completed salad.
Use a serrated knife to slice the mozzarella into 1/4-inch slices. The serrated knife makes it easy to cut through the soft cheese.
Overlap slices of tomato and mozzarella on a serving plate. Create a circular design or lay the ingredients in rows. Tear the basil leaves and sprinkle them over the tomatoes and cheese. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the ingredients, and season with salt and pepper just before serving.
Serve with crusty Italian bread to mop up the juices from the oil, tomatoes and cheese. If you don't have basil on hand, choose fresh oregano. Some recipes for insalata Caprese call for balsamic vinegar. Authentic recipes do not include any vinegar or citrus, but if you find these flavors pleasing, add them.
Once you dress the salad, eat it right away. The oil will break down the basil and soak into the mozzarella if allowed to sit for any length of time.