There is nothing new about Caprese [say, “cah-pray-zay”] Salad. Presumably from the Isle of Capri off the coast of Italy, it has been around the gourmet food scene since 1920, and is recently on every restaurant appetizer list and in every grocery deli, year ‘round. The ingredients are pretty much a given: tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil, olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper - all good, healthy stuff. So what makes the difference is the quality and freshness of the ingredients. Sure, you can have a humdrum, just okay, Caprese salad, or you can have a magical, flavorful, to-die-for Caprese Salad.
We all know that even though we can get fairly decent tomatoes year ‘round, there is nothing like the juicy seasonal, local tomatoes. It’s in the smell, the taste, the mouthfeel. And mozzarella comes in the form of rubbery balls or cheese sticks to soft and softer creamy “fresh” balls of multiple sizes stored in whey, to the amazing mozzarella di buffala made in Campania Italy from the milk of Water Buffalo. Basil, too, is available in different varieties from the strong small leaved Thai basil, to tiny leaved “pesto” basil, to the familiar larger crisp, flat leaved Italian basil.
Extra virgin olive oils can be really different in texture, color, aroma, and flavor. Spain produces nearly half of the world’s olive oil. It is a golden yellow, with a fruity, nutty flavor. Italy’s olive oil is typically green with grassy, herbal sometimes peppery flavors. Greek olive oil is strong and heavier in body. French olive oil is pale in color, milder and more elegant in flavor. California Olive oil is light and fruity. Experiment to find your favorite. For me, the Italian suits the Caprese Salad.
Caprese for Four
- 1 1/2 lbs. local, outdoor grown, fully ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced ¼ inch thick
- 2 6 oz. balls fresh mozzarella, sliced ¼ thick (mozzarella is easier to cut when thoroughly chilled)
- 6-8 large fresh crisp basil leaves, stacked, rolled, sliced to form narrow strips
- Freshly ground pink Himalayan or Hawaiian salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 C fruity extra virgin olive oil
- 1 TBS balsamic cream
How to: Just before serving,
- Alternate slightly overlapping slices of tomato and mozzarella either in concentric circles on a large round plate, or in a double row on a rectangular platter.
- Grind salt and pepper over the top
- Sprinkle the strands of basil over the top
- Drizzle generously with olive oil, then with driblets of the basil cream
Serve with: a flat Ciabatta loaf, sliced lengthwise, and charred, cut side down over the grill, then “painted” using a pastry brush with garlic infused extra virgin olive oil
Caprese Sandwich: Caprese salad makes a great picnic sandwich. Alternate the overlapping slices along the bottom half of a baguette or ciabatta lunga sliced lengthwise, sprinkle with the basil strands, then drizzle oil and balsamic and grind salt and fresh pepper to taste.
Nothing compares to the flavor of summer’s tomatoes, grown and ripened in the sun. And nothing shows them off like Caprese salad with creamy fresh mozzarella, a fragrant olive oil and fresh basil leaves. But what wines go with it?
Lean, crisp, and vibrantly acidic whites. Avoid wines with lower acidity or heavy oak aging. Look for Sauvignon Blanc.
TRY: Simi Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc. The smoothness of this wine complements the creamy cheese and silky oil, but with enough crisp acidity to stand up to the tomato and balsamic.
Dry, still or sparkling rosé. Rosé provides a bit more body, while preserving acidity pairing sparkling rosé wine with a chilled Caprese salad proves an impeccable match
TRY: The Dark Horse Rosé, from California made in bright, dry, crisp Mediterranean style affordable, and delicious, brings out the sweet ripeness of the summer tomatoes
Light to medium bodied, fruity, refreshing red. Avoid heavy, tannic reds, which can overpower the tomato's fruitiness.
TRY: La Fantina Sangiovese, A red that is light enough to chill slightly and has enough acid to bring out the fruitiness of the tomatoes, and flavorful enough to stand up to a fragrant olive oil
Roz Mayberry, has been buying the wine for the D&W Fresh Markets for nearly 20 years, and tastes it all, of course. She leads a team of thirteen enthusiastic wine and food knowledgeable Stewards who keep the customers interested and happy in the stores every day. Roz grew up on the east coast, where she spent most of her childhood outside, just rummaging around in the woods, or reading and day dreaming. She loves nothing better than summer camping, especially on the northern coast of Maine, looking up into the night sky, listening to the Atlantic rush over the rocks, and drinking Sauvignon Blanc with lobster. She moved to her new home on the beautiful shore of Lake Michigan in the early 1970s. Travel-to-eat and years of life in France have made her a hopeless foodie. Roz supplies the content for Destination Wine and watches in wonder as Nichole and Matt bring it to life.