Caprese salad with basil oil
This recipe is the result of a last minute inspiration that sent me rushing into the kitchen to test it the night before I was scheduled to prepare it on for a local television appearance. Why not bring back a classic, I thought, add a twist, and then prepare to defend against messing with a salad that is sacrosanct! In terms of a decades-long presence on menus around the globe, the Caprese ranks right up there with the Caesar salad. This isn't the first time a version like this has been imagined, but that didn't take away from my enjoyment of the classic combination of flavors one warm summer evening, sitting on my front porch.
Any and all varieties of tomato work for this salad. As summer rolls on, and more heirloom tomato varieties appear in the market, the only requirement for making a delicious and successful rendition of this salad is fabulous-tasting, ripe tomatoes. Use small balls of fresh mozzarella, or soft creamy Burrata (see photo below), which is a fresh Italian cheese made from a mozzarella "shell" filled with cream and mozzarella shreds (stracciatella).
I've worked with chefs who add a small tablet of vitamin C to the blender when making green herb oils, to preserve the vibrant green of the basil. While this method works perfectly well, I prefer to use lemon juice, which also sets the green color and adds the acidity necessary to balance the oil. The basil oil will keep up to two days in the refrigerator.
makes 4 servings
1 large bunch basil (3 cups picked leaves)
3/4 cup mild-flavored extra virgin olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper, optional
4 medium (or 6 to 7 small) ripe tomatoes
2 large balls fresh mozzarella or Burrata
Opal or other colored basil for garnish, optional
In a blender or food processor fitted with the metal blade, blend the basil (hold a few leaves back for garnish), olive oil, lemon juice and a generous pinch of salt for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the oil is bright green and smooth. Set aside.
Slice or quarter the tomatoes and place them in a bowl. Season with plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper, and pinch of cayenne if you like. Pour some of the basil oil over the tomatoes, tossing to coat them completely. Save any excess oil for a future salad.
Cut the cheese in 1/4-inch slices and arrange them on the bottom of the plates or platter. Spoon the tomatoes and basil oil over the top and garnish with several fresh basil leave.
Serve immediately with a nice crusty loaf of bread for soaking up the juices.