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by Paula Butler

Summer is in full swing and we're trying to enjoy every last drop by spending plenty of time outside and enjoying our favorite summer dishes. Enter the Caprese. 

When it comes to summer cooking, the simpler the better, and you can't get much simpler than a fresh Caprese salad of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. In fact, the less you do with this dish, the better it tastes as long as you remember one important thing: use the best ingredients possible. 

A Caprese salad can be one of the most delicious things you've ever tasted or a complete dud depending on what quality tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, olive oil, salt and pepper you use. It's certainly not hard to put together, but you do need to think about where to source your ingredients. Let's break them down:

Tomatoes - When a dish only has a few ingredients, they all really matter and tomatoes can easily be hit or miss. Keep an eye out at your local farmer's market for the freshest, ripest tomatoes you can find. It doesn't matter if they are cherry, heirloom, Roma or whatever, just make sure they are the best around.

Basil - Fresh Italian basil is easy to buy and even easier to grow yourself; just pluck a few bright green leaves and you're good to go. 

Mozzarella - Of course, for my Caprese salads I use homemade mozzarella following my super-fast, super-easy mozzarella recipe. Want to learn how to make mozzarella on your own? Find the full recipe here. Don't settle for store-bought mozzarella! It's so simple to make on your own that once you try this recipe you'll never go back to buying mozzarella but instead use your own homemade cheese. 

Olive oil - Just like wine, olive oil comes in a wide range of flavors and qualities. When you're using olive oil on a fresh dish where the delicate flavor of the oil will be noticed, make sure to go for the good stuff. It's best if you get your oil from a store that will let you taste test before buying but you can find decent olive oil at most grocery stores, just look for a bottle that says 'extra-virgin' and 'cold-pressed'. 

Salt - If you create this wonderful fresh salad then reach over for the everyday salt shaker to sprinkle on top, you're doing your Caprese and your tastebuds a major disservice. Instead, use a coarse, flaky salt, like Maldon sea salt, to add both little bursts of flavor and a bit of texture. 

Pepper - Again, don't just grab the shaker. Grind some fresh black pepper on the top of your creation for a slight crunch and subtle heat. 

Balsamic vinegar and pesto - While some people like to add balsamic vinegar, a balsamic reduction or pesto to their Caprese, you really don't need to if you've already used the best ingredients around. Both balsamic and pesto have very strong flavors that will overpower the tomatoes and olive oil. That said, if you still prefer to add either to your salad, just make they're high quality and only use a little bit to still savor the fresh sweetness of the tomatoes.

With a little forethought and your own homemade cheese, this summer's Caprese salads can be your best ever. Enjoy!    

(Need another easy summer recipe? Check out our post on putting together the perfect cheeseboard which is always a party hit.)



Paula Butler


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