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Mozzarella, Tomato, and Basil Salad
In Italy, it's often called insalata caprese -- here, it's become a favored first course

About 12 large basil leaves
6 medium tomatoes
2 pounds fresh mozzarella at room temperature, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Remove basil leaves from stems, rinse and pat dry. Rinse, core, and slice tomatoes lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices.
2. On a large round platter, alternate the tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella in a circular pattern starting from the middle and working outward.
3. Drizzle the olive oil evenly over the salad and season generously with salt and pepper.
Allow the salad to sit at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes before serving. Serve with crusty fresh bread.

In Italy, it's often called insalata caprese (Capri salad). Now, every Italian restaurant in America is serving this dish, which spread like wildfire in the eighties. There's only one problem: unless it's made with absolutely fresh, stunningly high-quality mozzarella, it can be a leaden disappointment. Mozzarella tastes best within hours of its manufacture, when the cheese is still soft, resilient, and oozing milk. After 24 hours, it loses those properties altogether. Another potential stumbling block in this recipe is the tomatoes: unless they're rich and ripe, the dish, once again, turns pallid. If fresh mozzarella and ripe tomatoes are not available to you, skip ahead to the next recipe. Serves 12 as a first course