I love simple recipes with seasonal ingredients. Simple Caprese salad has been a favorite at our house for a very long time!
Caprese salad originally comes from Italy where it is called Insalata Caprese. It became famous on the Isle of Capri, thus the name “Caprese.” It has become a common choice on menus all over America and Europe. All Caprese salads have tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Usually, there is also basil included.
A shocking revelation
Now I have something surprising to say…wait for it: most restaurant versions of Caprese salad are not that good. When I order it I am usually disappointed. What I make at home is much better – and cheaper! I know, I know – so often online recipe posts offer to help you mimic a restaurant’s recipe. This post does not. This post will help you make a simple Caprese salad that is BETTER than what you get at a restaurant. And you can do it quickly and easily!
What is wrong with the restaurant version? Well, the main problem is the tomatoes. American restaurants will often serve Caprese salad all year. That is a mistake. The tomatoes need to be delicious and perfectly ripe. They are the star of the show! Tomatoes are at their best in summer. You can buy them all year, but out-of-season tomatoes can be hard (or mushy – ewww) and flavorless. When summer comes, it’s time for Caprese salad!
Summertime tomatoes are amazing! When you make this salad, get the very best tomatoes you can find because it makes all the difference. If you can, go to your local farmer’s market. We like to eat this salad as often as possible while tomatoes are in season. My recipe here calls for cherry tomatoes because they are so quick to prepare. However, whatever type of tomatoes look most delicious to you are the right choice! If you select several different colors, your simple Caprese salad will look very pretty.
Another big problem with many restaurant versions, in my opinion, is that they cover up the flavor of the tomatoes with balsamic vinegar. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like balsamic vinegar. Tomatoes can be lovely in a vinegar-based salad. But Caprese salad is meant to showcase the tomato flavor. If you add balsamic you can’t really taste the tomatoes. Since my husband and I disagree on this point, when we have Caprese salad I make it in individual bowls so we can each have it the way we like it.
While I’m on that topic, I want to share with you that individual salad bowls is one of the ways I handle the various eaters in my family. I chop ingredients on the cutting board, and then I put what each person wants in separate bowls. It doesn’t add much work at all for me, and it gets my kids to eat better.
Since Caprese salad is such a simple dish, you need to use the best ingredients. Good quality extra virgin olive oil is key. You don’t want to use the same one that you cook with. Get the higher quality one for your salad. Trader Joe’s has some nice olive oils for not very high prices. Some stores have single-source olive oils which can be nice to experiment with. Some hail from a particular place – Greece, Italy, Spain, California. Others are a certain type of olive such as Arbequina, Kalamata, or Arbosana. Sometimes they will say what the flavor is like on the bottle. I bought one yesterday at Sprouts that claims to be “complex and nutty.” The flavor of the olive oil will be highlighted in your salad, so pick a nice one.
The cheese is also key. Fresh mozzarella is best for this salad. The fresh type is usually sold in tubs with water to keep it soft. It comes in different sizes. If you can find the Perlini (pearls) version it keeps your job as chef the easiest because you don’t have to cut them. But any size is fine – just chop or tear it into bite-sized pieces. If you can find Mozzarella di Bufala, that type is especially tasty. It is made from water buffalo milk rather than cow’s milk.
My simple Caprese salad can be thrown together quickly. Caprese salads often feature large pieces of sliced tomato and mozzarella which are served overlapping on the plate. That is very pretty, and you can certainly do it that way if you want. That is a good way to do it when you have company over. But if you are making a simple summer meal, my salad can be put together more quickly.
Three ways to serve simple Caprese salad
Alright, I told you that I have three ways to serve my salad! Let me quickly describe for you the differences:
- The simplest Caprese salad is just tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil, and salt.
- The more American version has balsamic vinegar and black pepper added. You also could simply offer the vinegar and pepper at the table at let people decide for themselves as they are eating.
- The California version is the basic simple Caprese salad with avocado added. I never would have added avocado, but a friend brought it to my house this way once and I loved it!
Simple Caprese Salad – 3 Ways
- 1 basket cherry tomatoes or 2-3 large tomatoes
- 2 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese perlini, ciliegine ,bocconcini need the least prep as they are small. However, any size you can find will work.
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- salt to taste
- 2 Tbsp fresh basil to taste
- 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar optional
- black pepper optional
- 1/2 avocado optional
- Slice the cherry tomatoes in half. If using larger tomatoes, cut them into bite-sized pieces.
- Put the tomatoes in your bowl. Salt liberally.
- Add the mozzarella into your bowl. If you are using one of the larger types, cut or tear it into bite-sized pieces first.
- Drizzle olive oil on top.
- Option #2: If you want vinegar and pepper, add it at this point.
- Option #3: If you want avocado, cut it into bite-sized pieces and add it. This can be done with or without the vinegar and pepper.
- Tear the basil into small pieces. Sprinkle on top of salad.
- To finish, sprinkle salt on top.
Simple Caprese salad makes a delicious summertime lunch. You can serve it with some bread to mop up the extra oil if you like – yum! For dinner, add some basic roast chicken and you have an easy meal. Or, bake up some of my Lazy Spaghetti Squash Lasagna!
Like this easy to adjust recipe? Try my Cheesy Veggie Scramble 3 Ways
Another healthy vegetable-based dish is my Butternut Squash Soup!
What’s your favorite summer salad? Comment below and let me know!