Caprese salad has been bastardized time and time again.
I’m looking at you, thickly sliced tasteless tomatoes and gum-like blocks of something labelled as mozzarella cheese, but more accurately titled rectangles of soaked rubber.
On top of that some balsamic vinegar that’s not actually balsamic vinegar, but a vile cream of… Something. Voila, you’ve got yourself a pretty terrible summer salad.
I have eaten many a bastardized caprese salad in my lifetime, but never at home.
Don’t make any assumptions now, my mother isn’t exactly the kind of mother you find in an ordinary food blogger’s bio. “Oh, the time spent in my youngest years clinging onto my mother’s linen dress, always in proximity of the hearth in my maiden home…”
Not so much my own maiden home’s hearth.
My mama is somewhat a reluctant gourmet cook. She will complain about the chore every night, then proceed to lock herself in the kitchen for two days before hosting a dinner party.
She’s the opposite of the vast amount of self-proclaimed Pinterest chefs who, had they an official say in it, would banish all meals taking more than 30 minutes or one pot to cook.
See, my mother is a terrible weeknight cook (not by ability, but by attitude) yet an incredible weekend host going to great lengths to entertain with effortless style and incredible taste.
All of this to say, she’s very savvy at serving great meals during the week… Without actually cooking much.
Her secret lies in buying quality in-season ingredients and combining them in unexpected ways (like in her pleasantly mayo-free pasta salad, which I interpreted as The New Italian Pasta Salad here on the blog).
Two years ago she made us a simple summer lunch while we were staying with them for a week and I’ve been wanting to share it ever since.
It was a caprese salad. Can you imagine? I’ve been thinking about the same caprese salad for two years, that’s how fascinating it was.
A few sliced peaches, heirloom cherry tomatoes, raspberries, good mozzarelline. Long and slim sticks of olive bread on the side and we had ourselves a perfect late August meal in the backyard.
Because I’ve been contemplating sharing this salad for such a long time, it has turned into something simple yet magnificent.
To the perfectly plump and ripe tomatoes in all shades of red, orange and yellow and the brightness of the fresh raspberries I didn’t only add peaches, but an assortment of summer stone fruits.
The mozzarella has to be buffalo, else my kids won’t eat it (food snobs already, I wonder where they got that from…)
Basil from the garden, a few early summer figs – because that’s what Jamie Oliver added to something he called the sexiest salad in the world. And if we’re being honest – does it really hurt to add a little more sexiness to our lives? I didn’t think so.
Where I got stuck was the dressing. I wanted this to be a meal salad, substantial enough by itself with a crusty bread, but not too heavy.
And no balsamico for once, while I do love it – isn’t it getting a little old to add balsamic vinegar every.single.time we make a recipe involving tomatoes and mozzarella?
I settled on a simple black olive pesto slash tapenade in the end. Just drizzle some olive oil with a lot of flavor (an early harvest one just like this you can get on Amazon* would be perfect) over the salad and serve it with the pesto on the side.
You could mix it into the salad for even flavor distribution, but you’d miss out on a great chance to Instagram a fancy canapé dinner. Though to be fair – it’s more of a rustic bruschetta situation.
Say no to the tear-inducing caprese salad this year and instead treat yourself to this beauty. Yes, summer is the time for unfussy simplicity in the kitchen, but simplicity doesn’t exclude good taste. (And simple isn’t always equal to the fastest and the easiest, by the way.)
Fully embracing this simplicity, I’m only giving vague measurements for this recipe. If you’ve been reading long enough you know I’m pretty… Eclectic? That’s probably the nicer way to describe my personality.
This reflects in my cooking, too. Sometimes I’m an advocate for five kitchen scales per household. In other ways I think you have achieved true mastery in the kitchen only when you can bake the perfect cake from nowhere but the bottom of your heart.
So, today is an in-between recipe. It’s not a not-recipe (what is that even) but it’s also not a stickler recipe. Go with the flow and let your soul (and your tastebuds) decide on how much basil you want, what kind of stone fruit you like (cherries would be awesome, too, for example) and if you prefer burrata over the buffalo mozzarella (you evil genius).
I contemplated adding something like Breasola or Prosciutto, but then decided to leave this up to you as well. Take this salad, run with it, make it your own – that’s what my mom would do, and as we all know – moms are always right.
For the black olive pesto
- fresh basil
- black olives
- olive oil
- lemon juice
For the salad
- a mix of tomatoes I love mixing up size, shape and color
- your favorite stone fruit apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries...
- a few figs
- buffalo mozzarella
- basil leaves
- flavorful olive oil
- black pepper and a coarse sea salt
To serve (optional, but encouraged)
- fresh ciabatta
- breasola, prosciutto or a similar cured meat
- Make the pesto by blitzing together all ingredients except for the salt and lemon juice with a strong immersion blender or in a mini food processor. Season with salt and lemon juice. (I used 1 cup basil, 1/4 cup olives, 1 tbsp almonds, 3 tbsp olive oil, a touch of salt and a good bit of lemon juice - just go with what you like. More basil will be more pesto-y and more olives more tapenade-y).
- Cut all produce for the salad in a way that you can eat it without looking like a total idiot. Arrange on a plate, artfully if you feel so inclined. Drizzle with oil and add a sprinkling of coarse salt.
- Serve with the olive pesto, bread and maybe a cured meat on the side.
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