A Caprese Salad is something I genuinely find very difficult to avoid ordering when I see it on a menu, even when scallops are on there! It always conjures up memories I have of eating it at a beautiful, al fresco restaurant in the South of France, the kind of place that produces everything on-site. I was eating there with my extended family as a teenager when I tasted it first. While I did “study” french in secondary school, I think I ordered it not knowing at all what I was going to get. Three stacks of layered mozzarella, tomato and basil were on the plate and I think there may have been the odd anchovy sandwiched in there too all drizzled in a basilly, pestoy oil. I was in heaven and this was my earliest memory of experiencing the ever-illusive opposite to food-envy… food-smugness! While the rest of the family were comparing starters and swapping forkfuls I was smugly and silently digging in like a detestable smart kid at a table quiz who knows the right answer and watches the other less-gifted children frantically conferring. That was when I realised that tomato, basil and mozzarella are absolute besties and are always in top form when together, evidenced by my Caprese Fusilli, Quiche Caprese and my Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Bread.
This recipe is my easy take on that caprese salad. I peel and marinate cherry tomatoes because, here, it is easier to find flavoursome cherry tomatoes and peeling and marinating them still gives you the lovely tomato explosion in your mouth while allowing the marinade to permeate deeper into the tomato flesh as the skin is removed. I opted to leave out the anchovy making this more accessible to vegetarians and anchovy-phobes. this is important as this dish can easily be scaled up (and made in advance!) if making as part of a buffet or pot-luck for a crowd. Buffalo mozzarella is essential. If you don’t believe this and have only ever had the cow’s mozzarella, believe me, they are so different you will just have to try it.
I used a pesto that I knew had plenty pine nuts but if you are unsure I suggest toasting up some pine nuts in a dry frying pan and adding them and they also work so well here.
- 250g cherry tomatoes
- half a tsp of black peppercorns
- 1 generous pinch of sea salt flakes
- 10 basil leaves
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp plus 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 balls of buffalo mozzarella
- 2 tsp good shop-bought basil
- Score a shallow X into the bottom of each tomato with a serrated knife.
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil and drop the tomatoes into it, leaving them for just 30 seconds before you scoop them out with a slotted spoon and transfer them to ice water to stop the cooking process.
- Now peel the tomatoes. The skin should lift off easily.
- To make the marinade for the tomatoes, add the peppercorns, salt, most of the basil leaves (reserving the prettier ones to garnish), vinegar and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a pestle and mortar and bash and grind until the peppercorns are all cracked and everything is combined.
- Pour the marinade over the tomatoes, stir them up to coat then transfer them to the fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
- Slice the mozzarella thickly and arrange around then edges of a serving dish.
- Loosen the pesto by combining it with the remaining olive oil and set aside until the tomatoes have marinaded.
- Pile the tomatoes into the centre of the mozzarella and drizzle over the pesto dressing.
- Garnish by scattering over a few fresh basil leaves and serve.