I am a big proponent of fermentation and preservation, but I also strive enjoy things when they are fresh too! Particularly tomatoes, which take up over half of my vegetable garden plot.
One of my absolute favorite ways to enjoy fresh tomatoes is in a caprese salad, which is essentially just a collection of tomato-enhancing ingredients thrown together and consumed with vigor. This is not a precisely measured recipe—it’s the ingredients that really matter, not the exact ratios.
Assorted ripe garden tomatoes
The more variety you have in tomatoes, the more exciting the salad will be. And not just in flavor—size, texture, and color all contribute. A colorful salad is just more fun to eat! Add some beefsteak, some plum, and some cherry tomatoes to the mix, all chopped in different ways for maximum enjoyment.
The fresher and softer the mozzarella, the better. Of course, use what makes sense for your budget, but if you can swing some buffalo mozzarella, do it! It’s very soft and creamy and provides contrast to the tomato’s texture. I also recommend burrata—though not traditional, the creaminess is closer to what you get from buffalo mozzarella if all you can find is those shrink-wrapped, low-moisture mozarella balls.
Yes, fresh tomatoes are great, but their naturally-ocurring umami really shines when paired with a generous amount of salt. It also serves another purpose: to draw moisture out of the tomatoes. You might think you wouldn’t want a “soggy salad”, but there is a method to this madness. Any kind of salt will do, I usually use several pinches of kosher salt or a sea salt grinder.
Extra virgin olive oil
You might be expecting me to recommend the most expensive olive oil you can find, but really anything labelled “extra virgin” will probably be fine. If you’ve got the fancy stuff, this is when to use it, but honestly, the oil is just there to mingle with the tomato juices and salt to form an impromptu dressing.
Tomatoes and basil are meant for each other. The herbaceous, almost mint, almost licorice aroma and flavor brings out flavors almost hidden in the tomato, particularly sweetness and that uniquely green, bright, and bitter quality usually only encountered in the tomato stem.
Wait a moment, you might be saying—what about the balsamic vinegar? Well, in my humble opinion, a caprese salad is better without it! Don’t get me wrong, feel free to add some if you want, but if you are growing tomatoes at home, you likely want to enjoy those fresh flavors only attainable with the backyard garden, and the vinegar jumps over that to command too much attention for me.
Chop, slice, and cut your tomatoes in different ways and put them together in a shallow bowl.
Add the salt and stir them up a little. This will start the process of drawing moisture from the tomatoes and also makes for a prettier Instagram photo without a layer of salt. 😉
Tear up the mozarella a chunk at a time and set it onto the tomatoes, randomly distributing it. Measure with your heart, but remember that the tomatoes are the star!
Drizzle the olive oil over everything. Be generous, but don’t drown them!
Chop the basil. I like to stack the leaves, roll them up tightly, slice thinly, and then roughly chop some more to make the strands not quite so long. Sprinkle over your salad.
And that’s all there is to it! Enjoy the best caprese salad you’ve ever had and be forever ruined by the experience, since you won’t be satisfied with restaurant caprese salad ever again.
Special thanks to Kenji Lopez-Alt for his caprese salad video that helped me shrug off the yolk of the “traditional” and boring caprese.