By now, you all know about my love for Italy and Italian food. Italian food is so simple, but showcases the freshest of ingredients and there's nothing that exemplifies this than the simple tomato mozzarella Caprese. My heirloom Caprese salad is made with simple ingredients and takes 15 minutes to put together. It's perfect for all your summertime needs and can make a great addition to any dinner party appetizer platter.
The post contains helpful tips and tricks to make sure you're successful in your first attempt. But if you're in a rush, please use the link above to jump to the recipe card at the end!
🥗 What is Caprese salad?
Caprese salad literally means salad from the island of Capri - a beautiful, serene island in Southern Italy. The traditional Caprese salad showcases the best of summer ingredients - fresh heirloom tomatoes, beautiful and creamy mozzarella (or occasionally, burrata), fresh basil, extra virgin and high quality olive oil, salt and pepper. Occasionally, folks will add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or pesto (but I recommend saving that for when you might not be able to get the freshest of summer ingredients).
📋 Ingredients & tips
My recipe uses the same exact ingredients as traditional Caprese salad - tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, olive oil, and salt & pepper.
Use fresh, and whole basil leaves.
I am so lucky to grow basil in my garden (and it's such an easy herb to grow, I promise!). I suggest buying fresh basil and using whole leaves. If the leaves are too big, you can chop them in half. But I prefer to wash and add them as is. A few brown spots are mostly okay - but if it has large brown or black spots, or worse, slimy spots, you should probably throw those away.
Use fresh mozzarella or burrata cheese.
If you can't find fresh mozzarella, I suggest using mozzarella that's packed in water. If you can find burrata (which is a softer, creamier version) use that! Both are used in traditional Caprese salads.
Heirloom tomatoes are the best tomatoes for Caprese salad.
However, you can also use any fresh garden tomato, or vine tomatoes. This recipe uses a mix of heirloom tomatoes and fresh garden vine tomatoes. Avoid other types if possible due to the high water content. I recommend cutting them, but not too thinly so you can get a perfect bite. I use a serrated knife to cut tomatoes (and will occasionally core them to remove the seeds).
Use high quality, extra virgin olive oil.
This salad only has five ingredients, so like most Italian food, you want to get the highest quality ingredients you can afford. You don't need to spend a lot of money to get good quality olive oil.
The olive oil I've used here was a gift from an Italian friend, but when I'm running out of olive oil, I go to Trader Joe's. Most of the varieties available there are amazing (if you have one of those nearby). If you don't have a TJ's nearby, that's fine too - just pick a good EVOO!
To make sure you're drizzling the olive oil, I suggest not pouring straight from the packaged bottle and instead pouring out the quantity you need into a smaller ramekin, and then using a teaspoon to drizzle. Alternatively, if you a pour bottle like I do, you can just drizzle it straight!
Use a combination of salt and flaky sea salt (like Maldon's) and fresh ground black pepper.
Here's my trick. I use a combination of both kosher salt (or just regular salt) and delicious, flaky sea salt. Adjust this to taste, of course, but the flakiness of the sea salt crystals also adds a bit of texture! Try to avoid ground pepper and use a pepper grinder if possible. For additional oomph, you can toast the pepper for a second if you'd like.
You can also add other ingredients like balsamic vinegar or pesto, or even avocados to this simple Caprese salad. But I like to leave it fresh, as-is (because it's so delicious already!) And because I'm worried about the wrath of my old Italian landlord.
If you like this recipe, check out my other summer salads:
Best Caprese Salad Recipe
- 3 tomatoes heirloom and vine (fresh, medium size) - cut into 8 tomato slices
- 8 oz mozzarella fresh (substitute with burrata if preferred)
- 10 basil leaves small to medium size, rinsed
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ tsp flaky sea salt I use Maldon's and love it!
- ¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
- Slice the mozzarella into thin chunks - I typically get about 8 slices per mozzarella ball. Arrange this on a serving platter - this is the base for the Caprese salad.
- Use a serrated knife to thinly slice tomatoes into even chunks (I like to chop them about ¼" thick) - arrange them on a serving platter on top of the mozzarella
- Rinse the basil leaves and top the tomato and mozzarella with a few basil leaves
- Drizzle olive oil evenly across the platter - I typically do this in a back and forth motion along the length of the platter. Then, add salt (adjust to taste) as well as ground black pepper.
- Right before you serve, add some flaky sea salt crystals on top along with an extra teaspoon of olive oil, and enjoy away!
- I like to use a mix of tomatoes since it provides a bit more variety and charm to the salad - but you can use whatever fresh and juice garden or vine tomato you can find (including green tomatoes!)
- Buy fresh mozzarella - if it has ingredients listed, check to make sure it doesn't include curd or citric acid. Often, that artificially speeds up the process and the mozzarella doesn't taste as fresh as a result. Also, don't put your mozzarella in the fridge! If you're using fresh mozzarella - buy them when you need to make this salad, and leave them out on the counter!
- Sweet Genovese basil (the one with smaller leaves) is the best for this salad, but it works with other basil as well - better yet, you can easily grow basil in your garden!