Caprese Salad is a simple, classic summertime salad that features juicy aromatic tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and aromatic basil leaves topped with a sweet and tangy balsamic glaze. It only takes about 15 minutes to make and you can prepare the reduction at the same time as the salad.
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While most restaurants offer caprese salad on the menu, I’ve got to say… not many quite handle it right. When you have such minimal ingredients in a fresh recipe like this one, every single ingredient of them REALLY matters. When you make it at home, you can ensure that only the best ingredients are used to make your caprese salad!
The three signature ingredients that make this salad so iconic are tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella. Well, and the balsamic reduction of course, but that is completely optional! I tend to drizzle a little extra reduction on my personal serving because I love it so much.
It’s sweet, sticky, and tangy, so it balances ideally with the other ingredients. What makes this Italian salad so summery is of course the fresh tomatoes and basil! Both ingredients are ripest in the sunny season, so go get your hands on the very best of the best.
Caprese salad always stuns when served as an appetizer at parties. However, I’ve often made enough just for myself to enjoy as a light lunch, especially when the summer sun is really beating down and I need something nice and fresh. It never fails to satisfy no matter where it’s served!
Origins of Caprese Salad
Caprese salad, aka Insalata Caprese, brings together some of the most beloved Italian flavors: fresh juicy tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, basil leaves, and balsamic reduction. Note that this beautiful salad features the colors of the Italian flag!
It is believed that one especially patriotic worker around the island of Capri created this salad right after World War I in the 1920s. The red, green, and white ingredients are a patriotic tribute to the nation’s flag.
This fresh salad didn’t gain it’s worldwide popularity until the 1950s, though. A chef at a popular hotel created a sandwich using the caprese salad ingredients and it became so popular that the salad became a notable tourist staple of Capri.
For the salad:
- Tomatoes – Tomatoes on the vine your best bet, but you can also use heirloom or Roma tomatoes if you’d prefer.
- Mozzarella – Use fresh mozzarella for the very best results. Try to find one in a log or a round that has a similar thickness as the tomatoes. Don’t use sliced or aged mozzarella cheese.
- Fresh Basil – Use fresh Italian basil. (Don’t use Thai or holy basil.)
For the balsamic reduction:
- Balsamic Vinegar – Have any leftover? Use it to make your own homemade balsamic vinaigrette! It comes together in a matter or minutes and is so much better than any of the store-bought stuff.
- Honey – I always try to use local honey. It will have the best essence of you region and usually the most fresh and well cared for.
How To Make Caprese Salad
Make the balsamic reduction so it’s ready to go.
Pour balsamic vinegar into the pot (1) and whisk in honey. Bring the mixture to simmer as you slowly but continuously whisk.
Once simmering, lower the heat to medium-low so it’s simmering gently. Allow the reduction to gently simmer and only stir every minute or so until the mixture thickens enough to coat your spoon (2). This will take about 7-10 minutes. Keep your eye on it though, because it thickens pretty quickly towards the end of cook time.
PRO TIP: don’t want until the reduction reaches the consistency you want it to be as it’s cooking! Remember, it will continue to thicken as it cools! So if you wait until it’s thick as it cooks, it will be solid once cooled.
Assemble the salad.
Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella cheese (3). Try to make the pieces as close to the same thickness as you can.
Lay out the sliced tomatoes and mozzarella. Alternate them to create a colorful pattern in either a circle or a few lines.
You can either mince the basil leaves into smaller pieces or leave them whole. If you leave them whole, layer them between the tomatoes and cheese. Try to disperse the basil evenly.
Drizzle the room temperature balsamic reduction all over the caprese salad. I like to serve a little on the side, that way my guests can always serve themselves more if they so choose.
Use a fork and knife to cut bite-sized potions of the tomatoes and mozzarella. Try to make sure to get some basil in every bite. You can drizzle some extra balsamic reduction if you wish, which is one of my favorite ways to enjoy this salad!
The best tasting tomato is by far heirloom tomatoes! Unfortunately, they are not always readily available at the grocery stores, so grab tomatoes on the vine as the second best option.
Caprese salad or Insalata Caprese, is a combination of mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and basil. Literally translated insalata caprese means “salad of Capri.”
Keep your caprese salad stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Properly stored, it will be good for about 24 hours. After that, the fresh ingredients begin to wilt.
You can always prep the balsamic glaze ahead of time. Make sure to keep it in a glass jar with a secure airtight lid. It may be kept for months at a time in the refrigerator if you didn’t add sugar.
If you did add sugar, it will stay good for several weeks.
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Caprese Salad Recipe
- 4 tomatoes on a vine
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese
- 10-12 basil leaves
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 tbsp honey
- Whisk balsamic vinegar and honey in a small sauce pot and set the heat medium. Bring the mixture to simmer.
- Once it starts to simmer, turn the heat down to medium-low. Let vinegar gently simmer, stirring every minute or so, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the spoon. (It will take 7-10 minutes but please note, that it will start to thicken fast during the last couple of minutes so keep an eye on it.)*
- Slice tomatoes and mozzarella cheese as close to the same thickness as you can.
- Lay out the tomato and mozzarella slices, alternating them, either in a circle or in a couple of lines.
- Either mince the basil leaves or tuck them whole in between the tomatoes and cheese. Try to spread them around evenly.
- Once the balsamic reduction cools to room temperature, drizzle it all over the tomatoes and mozzarella. (Serve remaining balsamic reduction on the side so your guests can serve themselves more if they wish.)