on Aug 11, 2014, Updated Jul 08, 2023
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.
You can keep a caprese salad classic with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, but drizzling on pesto or balsamic syrup are easy ways to enhance it.
There are few special classics that are basically summer on a plate.
With tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella, the caprese salad is absolutely one of them, if not the best example.
I wish I could say that every summer we get our act together and plant a garden in containers on our back deck.
All sorts of commitments tend to get in the way from family to work. It’s amazing how watering plants once, maybe twice, a day sounds like too much to do.
As much as I want to claim a garden as my own, I turn to the farmers market for my tomatoes and basil.
The selection is pretty great, and I love taking in that relaxed atmosphere of a sunny weekend Saturday or Sunday to do my shopping.
A traditional caprese is sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and basil leaves drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with salt and pepper all arranged beautifully on a serving platter.
But I do have a few variations that I like.
I will simmer balsamic vinegar until it reduces into a thick syrup. Then I drip that tart sauce on top of the tomatoes and mozzarella.
I don’t always have fresh basil at home. The leaves are so delicate that I tend to turn them into pesto to make them last longer.
Another option is to add baby greens like arugula and spinach and turn it into a more hearty salad.
Of course there is nothing wrong with keeping it to the Italian classic.
Caprese Salad Recipe: The Ingredients
This is what you need for the salad:
- Tomatoes: The most important thing is to make sure that you have beautiful ripe, juicy tomatoes. From heirloom to grape to cherry tomatoes, the size and shape do not matter. This is a salad that’s at its best during peak tomato season.
- Mozzarella: You need to use fresh mozzarella. The kind that’s in balls in liquid. Just tear or slice the mozzarella, so you have a balanced proportion of tomatoes to cheese. You can adjust the size of the cheese pieces depending on your tomatoes.
- Basil Leaves: Keep the leaves whole or gently tear them. And either sprinkle them on top or carefully layer them between the tomatoes and mozzarella.
- Olive Oil: Extra virgin olive oil is best. This salad is the moment to use that fancy olive oil you got as a gift and have been saving.
- Salt & Pepper: With so few ingredients, seasoning is key. I love the crunch of flaky sea salt like Maldon. And don’t shy away from the kick of black pepper.
Options to Drizzle
You can stay simple and stick with olive oil. There is nothing wrong with that.
But you do have a couple other options. Simmer balsamic vinegar and brown sugar together to create a thicker syrup (a balsamic reduction) that has just a touch of sweetness.
Pesto is great, too. It’s herby and is always a perfect match with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.
Summer is the most fleeting of the seasons, so I recommend eating a caprese salad as often as you can.
Also, it just tastes better on sunny hot days.
Even More Caprese Recipes
This classic Italian salad is endless inspiration for even more versions:
- For salad
- 1 pound assorted tomatoes sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 2-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- To assemble the salad, arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella on a serving plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Top with fresh basil leaves, basil pesto for balsamic syrup.
- For the balsamic syrup, combine the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Cook stirring occasionally until it has thickened and reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. (This recipe makes more than needed for the salad. Leftover syrup can be stored in the refrigerator up to 1 month.)
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.