Here in Western North Carolina, the growing season is coming to a close. In the next few weeks, my husband and I will be tearing out the last of our summer crops and planting a new winter garden. With this transition comes the very last of the locally grown heirloom tomatoes, bursting with the taste of summer. No tomato compares to the flavor of fresh, local, heirloom varieties, so of course we want to savor them in the best way possible.
One of our very favorite ways to showcase tomatoes is to make Insalata Caprese, an Italian tomato salad with basil, fresh mozzarella cheese, and olive oil. The tomatoes are the stars of this dish, allowed to flaunt their flavor against the mild but delicious cheese and olive oil and the complementary spice from some fresh basil, salt, and pepper. Insalata Caprese is an incredibly simple dish to make, but that is part of its beauty, and why it presents tomatoes so well. This wonderful light summer dish is surprisingly quite filling when served with bread.
Of course, true Insalata Caprese can only be found in Italy, for a purely traditional dish would have Italian grown tomatoes right off the vine, freshly made Italian mozzarella cheese (preferably di bufala campana, which is made from buffalo milk), extra virgin olive oil from Italian olives freshly pressed, and basil grown under the Southern Italian sun. The colors of the dish even recall those of the Italian flag–red, white, green. Those of us not living in Italy will just have to make do with what we can find locally, of course.
This dish also works very well served as an appetizer plate at a party.
Insalata Caprese Recipe
- two large fresh, local heirloom tomatoes
- one ball of fresh mozzarella cheese
- one large handful fresh basil leaves
- extra virgin olive oil
- a dash of salt
- a sprinkling of freshly course-ground black pepper
- serve with fresh crusty bread (sourdough or equivalent)
Wash the basil and tomatoes. Remove the basil leaves from the stems. Slice the tomatoes into 1/2 inch thick rounds, removing stems. Slice the fresh mozzarella cheese into 1/4 inch thick rounds.
On a pretty serving plate, artfully arrange the tomato slices, basil leaves, and mozzarella cheese slices alternating. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Dash just a little salt over this arrangement, then grind black pepper over the plate to taste. Serve with fresh bread. Enjoy!