Forget about mediocre BBQ side dishes – this Caprese Cherry Tomato Salad hits all the right notes! Made with fresh ingredients and a homemade balsamic dressing, it will be your new summer favorite.
Confession time: Have you ever had a bad caprese salad at a BBQ?
Because in my experience, they are abundant. Watery from not-quite-ready tomatoes, not made with fresh mozzarella, this weird sirupy balsamic sludge on top… Ahem. Am I letting my inner food snob show?
But today, we’re going to fix caprese salad. With ripe cherry tomatoes, a gorgeous homemade balsamic vinaigrette, fresh little mozzarella balls and a hefty dose of fresh basil.
I promise, this is one caprese salad you can show up at the fanciest picnic with 😉
How to Make Caprese Salad:
Why is it called a Caprese Salad?
Within the borders of Italy, Caprese Salad is called Insalata Caprese.
Don’t nail me down on the spelling or anything. 0% Italian over here, but immensely interested in food history.
Anyways, Insalata Caprese literally means “salad from Capri”. And while it seems to be debatable if this infamous salad from the island Capri was actually made from tomatoes and mozzarella… That’s what it’s known as today.
What goes into a Caprese Salad?
The beauty of this salad lies within the vibrant colors (which, incidentally, are those of the Italian flag): Red from ripe tomatoes, white from succulent mozzarella and green from fresh basil.
Since it’s such a simple salad, the key is to use the absolutely freshest, best ingredients you can source (and afford, of course).
I almost never make Caprese Salad when I have to buy tomatoes for it, only when we have our own from the garden. I live for mini buffalo mozzarella balls. And the basil is usually from our herb garden.
But fun fact: Did you know there’s no balsamic vinegar (or actual dressing) in a 100% authentic caprese salad?
It’s true – if you ever go to Italy (and refrain from dining in very tourist-y places), you’ll get your caprese with a simple drizzle of olive oil and some sea salt.
But to be honest, I do love a good, homemade balsamic vinaigrette. So I guess I do cheat on authenticity a little…
How do you eat a Caprese Salad? What can you serve it with?
To be quite honest, a simple Caprese Salad is often our lunch during summer. Add a hunk of crusty bread and a scoop of gelato for dessert, and I’m as happy as can be.
If you’re going for something more sophisticated, it’s also excellent with some grilled chicken and/or over pasta.
And for all you cool kids: Even avocado toast is made better by topping it with caprese salad!
Can you make Caprese Salad ahead?
Honestly, I wouldn’t.
The tomatoes will start releasing water. The basil will wilt. The mozzarella will soak up the balsamic and turn grey.
It’s such a quick and simple salad to make – you’ll be fine making it on the spot. If you want to bring it to a BBQ or a picnic, bring the sliced tomatoes and mozzarella in a bowl, and the vinaigrette in a jar. Add the basil and dressing right before serving.
I know, these seem like an awful lot of words and rules for such a simple summer side – but I promise, if you succumb to my food snobbery jus this once, you’ll whip up a Caprese Cherry Tomato Salad worthy of your love.
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For the balsamic vinaigrette:
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or less if you don't like tart dressings)
- 1/2 tablespoon runny honey
- 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 pinch Italian seasoning
- 1 pinch dried garlic powder
- salt & black pepper (to taste)
For the salad:
- 2 pints cherry tomatoes (halved)
- 16 oz fresh mozzarella cheese (I used a mix of small balls and pearls)
- 1 bunch fresh basil (large leaves roughly chopped, small ones left whole)
- Combine dressing ingredients in a salad bowl and whisk well. Add salad ingredients to the dressing and carefully toss to coat. Serve immediately.