What it is: A highlight of tomato season, Caprese salad is made from ripe, red tomato; fluffy, white mozzarella; and fragrant leaves of green basil — echoing the colors of the Italian flag.
Where it comes from: Insalata Caprese is named for the Italian island of Capri, off the coast of the southern region of Campania. Accounts vary on whether it originated there — and tracing the start of such a simple recipe seems well-nigh impossible — but it became popular internationally during the 1950s, after being served to the exiled King Farouk of Egypt, a notorious gourmand, when he called for something unique and light at Capri’s Grand Hotel Quisisana.
What to do with it: The simplest preparations of Caprese contain only alternating slices of juicy tomato, rounds of soft mozzarella and whole fresh basil leaves — typically dressed with olive oil. At Vintage 338, a wine bar in Lincoln Park, Chef Blaze Correia makes a fancier version with burrata cheese, a fresh mozzarella filled with cream, and adds mixed greens, sun-dried tomatoes and a balsamic reduction. Some cooks like to add oregano.
The salad makes a fine appetizer or light main course. It can also be enjoyed — as King Farouk reportedly did — as a sandwich filling.
The season for fresh tomatoes and basil will soon be coming to a close, so make the most of it with a Caprese soon.
Vintage 338′s Caprese salad
Chef Blaze Correia
1/4 burrata cheese ball
3 ounces mesclun mix
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 ounces diced fresh tomatoes
1 ounce sun-dried tomatoes, cut in matchsticks
1/2 ounce fresh basil leaves, cut in matchsticks
2 tablespoons balsamic reduction
Chopped fresh parsley (optional)
In a bowl toss mesclun mix with half the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange on a plate.
Top with diced tomatoes, cheese. Throw a pinch of salt and pepper on top and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Add the sundried tomatoes and basil. Drizzle the balsamic reduction either over the entire plate or on the side. Garnish with chopped parsley. 1 serving.
1 liter aged balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
In a saucepan over high heat, bring the balsamic vinegar to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer. Stir to prevent from burning or scorching. Cook down by half or two-thirds until the vinegar is syrupy and coats the back of a metal spoon.
As the vinegar reduces it will naturally sweeten. If you wish it to be sweeter, add the sugar during the cooking process, stirring until it dissolves.
Pour ice and cool water into a bowl. Remove the reduction from the heat and pour into a squeeze bottle, secure top, and place in the ice bath. After about 20 minutes, the reduction will thicken and be ready to use. Makes 1/3 to 1/2 liter.