Also Called Caprese Salad
Even though the sumptuous summer tomatoes have yet to be available here in Philadelphia, there is still a lot of good produce. We live on fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil from our garden or the farmer's market this time of year.
The mozzarella we buy at Costco. I like the large egg size that comes in the big tubs.
Depending on how often my girls ask for slices to snack on, a tub will last us a couple of weeks. This is the same mozzarella you buy in gourmet stores that are sold individually at twice the per-pound rate.
Where we do indulge is with the oil and balsamic vinegar. I like to use the best extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar I can afford.
You use it sparingly, especially the balsamic vinegar, so why not treat yourself to something great? You want to avoid overpowering the incredible flavors of the fresh tomatoes and basil, so a little goes a long way.
You can find great extra virgin olive oil everywhere, but they are not all the same. Each producer of fine virgin olive oil will create it with a unique taste, and I recommend you go to a store where they will let you sample various oils to find the one you like.
The one I am very fond of is from Giorgio Zampa, a Tuscan-style olive oil made on the small island of Sardinia off the coast of Italy. The oil is made with Bosana olives grown on the island and harvested when ripe and cold pressed within hours of picking.
The balsamic vinegar I use is incredible but expensive. I like the 20-year Padroni balsamic vinegar. It's over $100 per bottle but lasts me well over a year, so I figure less than $9.00 monthly. So, I don't buy a couple of lattes each month.
A much better buy is the Giusti 12-year-old balsamic or the Giusti 10-year-old balsamic. These, too, are not cheap when compared to the price you are used to in the supermarket, but there is no comparison when it comes to flavor. Side by side, the cheap stuff tastes like sugar water.
The cost is over $50, but you get 250 ml of complex aged balsamic vinegar rather than the 100 ml with the 20-year Padroni. Is there a difference? Of course, but dollar for dollar, the 10 & 12-year-olds are a great buy.
Preparing the Tomatoes, Mozzarella & Basil
I am trying to remember if I saw this dish presented this way in a cookbook, magazine, or on a website, but it looked like a great way to serve them, so we gave it a try. In the past, I would slice the tomato & mozzarella and layer it with the basil by fanning it out on a plate.
This method of cutting the tomato whole and slipping in the mozzarella and basil makes it much more elegant. I can't wait to serve it to friends at a dinner party.
To dress it, I sprinkle some extra virgin olive oil over the tomatoes (I use the thumb over the end of the bottle technique) and a few drops of balsamic vinegar (using the same technique) and season it with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Garnish with a sprig of basil, and you are done. This is a summer staple in our house, so try it.
Tomatoes, Mozzarella and Basil
- 1 ripe fresh tomato per person
- thin slices fresh mozzarella cheese
- whole basil leaves washed and dried
- olive oil best quality extra virgin
- balsamic vinegar best quality
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Place a tomato, upside down, on a cutting board.
- With a sharpe, serrated blade, cut down through the tomato to about ½ inch from the cutting board. You want to cut vertical, parallel slices while keeping the base of the tomato intact so it holds together.
- Gently separate the slices, being careful not to tear the slices off the tomato. Insert a slice of fresh mozzarella and a whole basil leaf between each slice of tomato.
- Sparingly drizzle on a bit of olive oil and just a few drops of balsamic vinegar.
- Season with salt and pepper. Garnish each tomato with a fresh basil leaf or sprig and serve.