The air is sticky with dampness, a hot yellow even in the morning; the heat comes at you from all directions and closes around you like a giant fist. In the afternoon there’s just too much, too much boiling wet air to hold anything more than a tense, brittle suspension waiting for a whiff of chill to crack the whole thing and pound it on your head. There’s no room to move in all that syrup, but somehow there’s not enough room to breathe either. The trees look uncomfortable; The bugs sound like a stadium crowd in hell. Tomato time, my friends, is suddenly upon you.
did you cheat Did you start buying puked Canadian tomatoes in June? No! You been waiting for the good shit, the local shit, August tomatoes. You hero. You absolute champion. Your reward is a nice big caprese salad. Or, well, I recommend you make one yourself anyway. I will not give it to you
The Caprese salad — the easy Italian salad of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and sweet basil dressed in fruity olive oil — could be the perfect August meal. It features two of mid to late summer’s best crops, tomatoes and basil; it requires no cooking; and thanks to the mozzarella, it’s even hearty enough to go with any meal of the day. There are a thousand delicious uses for the best midsummer tomatoes. Don’t miss tomato time without enjoying a tomato sandwich and a tomato salad and a burger with a big slice of real godly tomato on it and cherry tomatoes eaten right out of your hand and put in your mouth, er cherries. But a damn Caprese salad also fits in there. Do it for your buddy that I am.
Here are some things you will need. Not much stuff. Just a little stuff.
you will need some tomatoes, naturally. I’m under no illusions here: Even at the height of tomato season (which hasn’t yet arrived in much of North America), regular grocery shoppers may still not have particularly worthy tomato options at their local supermarket chain; for the that can Find good tomatoes at the local store, you may not have a choice diversity get from good tomato. I live in a medium-sized town surrounded on all sides by lush green farms; In the center of town is a huge fairground, made up almost entirely of barns, used at least once a year for major agricultural shows. Down the mountainside from my home is a huge open field that is hosting literal tractor shows several times a year. What I’m saying is that this area is stupid with grown produce. But even here, if you shop at the big fancy supermarket in the wealthiest part of town, all the tomatoes are from damn Canada, Mexico, and Michigan, except for a pathetic handful that were trucked at least dozens of miles from somewhere in Pennsylvania away. This is disgusting and disgraceful, both in the silly, over-the-top way of all Tomato Time blogs, and in the more serious sense that it’s bloody disgusting and disgraceful, with the poisoned and burning and dying nature of hard, green, tasteless tomatoes thousands of miles away across a continent to sell in a shop that could stock more delicious, fragrant, ripe tomatoes than it would ever need without buying any from further than you could be 15 minutes from its front door.
Shit, I’ve lost my train of thought! What I’m saying here is that any kind of Well– that is, local post-ripening tomatoes you can get are probably fine. If that’s some big, hearty beefsteaks, fine, great; If it’s a can of cherry tomatoes, we can do that too. If it’s a bag of Roma Plum Tomatoes, well ok that’s not exactly ideal, the ultimate destiny of it is to be cooked in a sauce made from heaven, but still – still! With that we can get the job done. The thing is that the tomatoes should be Wellotherwise it’s a waste of time. If your local supermarket doesn’t stock local tomatoes, it’s worth checking out a farmer’s market or roadside stand that does; Your town almost certainly has one of these somewhere in or near it.
OK. Go on. you will need some fresh mozzarella. This can be the giant baseball-sized suction cup sold in a tub of water or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. If you’re using cherry tomatoes in your Caprese salad, you might want to look out for a tin of the smaller mozzarella types that are sometimes sold as such Baby canapes or cherries; The latter in particular could be pretty much the size of cherry tomatoes, making them a very nice pairing. But don’t sweat this too much. As long as you have some fresh mozzarella, you’ll do great.
(A note on this. Yes, it’s true, real authentic mozzarella is made with buffalo milk and is a lot harder to find than the cow’s milk variety here in the United States. Maybe it’s contradictory or conflicting or whatever that I’ve got two right now Paragraphs written emphasizing the importance of good local tomatoes just to be like that It’s okay to just use whatever you can find when it comes to mozzarella, but: It’s fine to use just about any mozzarella you can find, as long as it’s fresh mozzarella and not like cream cheese or the dried shredded stuff you use to top a pizza. It’s good! It’s good.)
(One more note! A cheeky twist that I think could become routine in the world of Caprese salad prep is to swap out the mozzarella for its stracciatella and cream-filled cousin, burrata. That’s a lot of fun: you chop the tomatoes and heap them in the bottom of a shallow bowl, and splat the whole big burrata ball on top; when it’s time to eat that sucker, you cut into the burrata first and creamy the inside oozes all over the tomatoes and, well, you can figure out the rest. But burrata isn’t as easy to find as fresh mozzarella, and fresh mozzarella is heaven on its own.)
you will need some fresh sweet basil. I don’t have much to say about that. I think it’s more traditional to leave the leaves whole, but personally I like to roll them up and thinly slice them so every bite of caprese salad is guaranteed to have some basil.
you will need some extra virgin olive oil, the fruitier the better. You need, or at least I recommend, a modest amount some flaky sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper. While I recommend things, I also recommend, if you can score it, some really thick and syrupy Aged Balsamic Vinegar, although this is impractical in many regular places where a shopper’s only options are for things sold under the name “balsamic.” -Vinegar” do business. are bottles of bitter black water. The only bottle of the good stuff I happen to have was bought hundreds of miles from where I live, and it’s almost empty. If you can’t get good, syrupy stuff – the kind that covers the back of a spoon and can be drizzled like warm honey – then don’t bother; Your Caprese salad doesn’t have to be wet.
I think this is it? If I think of anything else I’ll, uh, I guess I’ll scroll back here and add it before I send this draft to my editor. Let’s assemble. That’s really all, give or take some cutting.
If you have large (or medium-sized) tomatoes that seem plausible for slicing, slice them. In this case, also slice the mozzarella; Combine a slice of tomato with a slice of mozzarella. In the photo above, I somehow placed them around a serving plate. That looked nice and was a little awkward to portion, but I think in a fun way: I put the plate in the middle of the table, within easy reach of everyone, and we all dug into it together, only semi-competitively, which is a great option is to share something. If you go this route, I recommend just sprinkling the sea salt and basil roughly on top, and sprinkling some black pepper on top before topping the oil (and vinegar, if you’re using some).
You could also just build little towers together, the more familiar way: a slice of tomato for the base, a piece or slice of mozzarella on top, the pretty green basil on top, and then drizzle with the oil. A few years ago, in the tense, jobless summer leading up to the birth of this site, I made a large Caprese salad pretty much like this, only the tomato slices were smaller in diameter than the mozzarella, so I put the mozz on top of the Bottom, the tomato on top, then a small dollop of fresh ricotta on each tomato slice and each with an even smaller dollop of fresh basil pesto and some toasted pine nuts.
I only mention this as encouragement to try what seems good to you, unless what seems good to you is melting a slice of American cheese over your Caprese salad. Good and also because I had a nice colorful photo of this caprese salad in my phone and I wanted to use it.
oh ho hoYou said. But what if I don’t have large cuttable tomatoes? What if I actually have cherry or grape tomatoes? What, “Professor”? To that, I’m saying that you’re being kind of weirdly prosecutorial about this whole thing and maybe you should relax. I have never presented myself as a professor, nor as any other type of teacher. But I also say that it’s cool and good to make little skewers of cherry tomatoes and mozzarella (cut into cherry tomato-sized pieces if they’re not already in them cherries form) and basil; You can drive a toothpick through these suction cups, or you can use wooden, bamboo, or metal skewers. Line them up on a large plate and toss them all with salt and pepper and olive oil. I once saw a Caprese salad where the whole thing was mounted on forks: each fork had been poked all the way through a cherry tomato and a basil leaf, and then poked into a piece of mozzarella. I mention this just in case you don’t have toothpicks or skewers nearby.
You can also interpret salad Divide it a little wider, and just toss your cherry tomatoes and mozzarella and basil with some raw greens – I recommend baby arugula in this case, and some shaved radicchio wouldn’t go amiss – in a large bowl. Heck, throw in some raw onions and a few pieces of stale bread and turn it all into a hybrid caprese panzanella! I don’t give a fuck! It’s your salad and it will taste delicious. The purpose of this blog is to bury you under viable options so you’re cornered and have no way to enjoy tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella now before you miss another precious tomato time. In this sense: food.