This summer is the summer of heirloom tomatoes. Ripe, juicy heirloom tomatoes in all shades of red, yellow and orange. My friends have gifted me a few from their gardens this summer, and they’re so perfect when sliced and sprinkled with a little olive oil and flaky salt.
I couldn’t walk by the overflowing bins at Whole Foods one more time without stocking up and making something big and bold out of those gorgeous tomatoes. What better than a classic Caprese salad, made with the simplest of ingredients?
Traditional Caprese salads are made with slices of tomato, mozzarella, sprinkled generously with basil, salt and pepper, finished with a drizzle of olive oil.
Caprese salad (insalata Caprese) literally means “salad of Capri.” Capri is an Italian island in the Mediterranean. I can’t confirm that it actually originated there, but it is Italian and it is delicious.
A well-made Caprese salad will make a statement at your summer parties, but it’s easy and simple enough to enjoy on a regular weeknight.
How to Make the Best Caprese Salad
The trick to making a Caprese salad worth eating is to use fantastic ingredients. That’s it!
1) Ripe, juicy tomatoes
In other words, Caprese salads are for summertime and summertime only! I used a variety of heirloom tomatoes but regular garden tomatoes (good ones) will also work marvelously.
2) Great mozzarella (or burrata)
Fresh mozzarella if you can find it. Otherwise, find mozzarella balls packed in water. The mozzarella balls that come in vacuum-sealed bags tend to be rubbery and don’t absorb olive oil and tomato juice like the other kinds do.
My only real deviation from classic Caprese salads was using burrata instead of mozzarella. Burrata is mozzarella with a glorious cream and mozzarella-infused interior. It’s more delicate than pure mozzarella, and it offers more texture and creaminess. I recommend it if you can find it.
3) Fresh basil
You want beautifully green, well-hydrated basil leaves. The smaller leaves look the nicest, so pick those if you have the option.
4) High-quality olive oil
You don’t have to spend a million bucks on good olive oil. You do need to make sure it’s real, pure, extra-virgin olive oil, which is made from the first pressing of the olives. Be sure to always screw the lid back on, and store it in a cool, dark place like a cupboard.
Olive oil should not taste bitter or rancid—if it does, it has gone bad. My go-to olive oils are California Olive Ranch (Arbequina or Everyday) or Trader Joe’s Kalamata olive oil.
5) Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Not the kind from salt and pepper shakers, please. Ideally, you want to use flaky sea salt (Maldon sea salt is worth every penny), but kosher salt will work, too. Freshly ground black pepper from a pepper grinder is the only way to go.
Sometimes you’ll find Caprese salads with drizzles of balsamic vinegar or pesto, which are only needed if your other ingredients aren’t flavorful.
But, they should be full of flavor. Caprese salads are for summertime only, remember?
I hope you love this Caprese salad as much as I do. It’s a Caprese salad to get excited about! Please let me know how you like it in the comments, and I’d love to see your gorgeous salads on Instagram—tag them #cookieandkate so I can see!
If you have a surplus of tomatoes (lucky you), here are a few fun riffs on classic Caprese salad: Caprese pasta salad, Caprese skewers with balsamic dipping sauce, and tomato jam and mozzarella panini. More tomato recipes here!
Heirloom Caprese Salad
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 0 minutes
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings 1x
- Category: Salad
- Method: By hand
- Cuisine: Italian
The best Caprese salad you’ll ever have! Great ingredients are the key. Use ripe summer tomatoes, burrata or mozzarella, fresh basil and olive oil. Recipe yields 4 generous or 6 smaller servings.
- 2 pounds mixed heirloom tomatoes or the best ripe tomatoes available
- 8-ounce ball of burrata or mozzarella, preferably fresh or packed in water
- Handful of fresh basil leaves (smaller leaves look nicer)
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon flaky sea salt or ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- With a serrated knife, cut the tomatoes into ¼″ thick slices. Arrange them on a large serving platter, overlapping their edges and varying the shapes as best you can.
- Cut the burrata or mozzarella into ¼″ to ½″ slices (burrata is tricky since the inside is so creamy; I cut it into ½″ slices and gently tugged the slices into smaller sections, see photos). Tuck the cheese around and underneath the tomatoes, dispersing it relatively evenly across the platter.
- Sprinkle basil leaves all over, and tuck a few more into the crevices. Drizzle the olive oil over the salad. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
- For the best flavor (if you have the time), let the salad rest for 30 minutes so the tomatoes release some juices and the flavors have time to mingle. This salad is best served within a few hours. Leftovers will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days.
Make it dairy free/vegan: As long as you’re using great tomatoes, you’ll enjoy this salad without cheese. If you’d like some creaminess, I think this salad would be nice with dollops of my vegan sour cream or with slices of avocado.
Change it up: Try substituting ripe peaches for some of the tomatoes!