Basil + Tomato = Recipe for a Great Summer Salad: Over the centuries, humans have created timeless flavor combinations that go together so well they seem to have been made for each other in culinary heaven—rosemary with lamb, beans and cornbread, garlic with pasta, and lemon with just about anything. One of the most heavenly combos is tomatoes and basil, which reaches its zenith each summer when the tomatoes are fresh, the basil’s busting out and the desire to labor in a hot kitchen is just about nil. Slice those tomatoes, pluck the basil, add some fresh mozzarella, olive oil and balsamic vinegar and you have yourself a scrumptious insalata Caprese, which is Italian for “What a great salad!”
Actually, it’s Italian for “the salad from Capri,” and a quick search through cookbooks and online sources reveals that there is much flexibility in the ingredients. The fresh cheese and herbs make it an excellent salad to help build strong bones. (For more on bone health, see Page 38.) Traditionally, Caprese is made with buffalo mozzarella, from the milk of domesticated water buffalo, but here in the states, the mozzarella is more likely to be made from cows’ milk.
Switch It Up
Beyond these basic ingredients, the recipes can get quite inventive. Substitute radicchio for the basil, for instance, or sift a little dried oregano over the salad. Replace the tomatoes with mangoes and give your taste buds a new challenge. When I have leftover roast beef, I slice that thin and alternate it with the mozzarella and sliced tomatoes, which might not be authentic but sure is tasty.
The new availability of so many varieties of heirloom tomatoes opens up a whole new palette for those wishing to branch out a bit from the ordinary—if one would ever dare to call this treat ordinary. Our cover recipe mixed cherry tomatoes in with regular red tomatoes. At home, I’ve alternated yellow, red and orange tomatoes, and have added thinly sliced red onion or a scattering of Kalamata olives.
If the ‘Green Zebra’ and yellow ‘Taxi’ heirlooms I’m growing with such great hope this year actually end up bearing fruit, won’t that be a Caprese to behold?
K.C. Compton is editor-in-chief of The Herb Companion.