Traditional Caprese Salad Recipe (Insalata Caprese) made with alternating slices of juicy, ripe tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and olive oil. Naturally vegetarian and gluten-free, prepare this easy Caprese Salad in under 10 minutes and enjoy as a light lunch or dinner appetizer.
What is Caprese Salad?
Caprese Salad, also known as insalata caprese, is a simple, fresh, Italian salad made of tomatoes, sliced mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Featuring the Italian colors of red, green, and white, you will typically find caprese salads served as an antipasto (appetizer) rather than a contorno (side dish).
Best Tomatoes for Caprese Salad
A delicious Insalata Caprese requires ripe and juicy summer ripened tomatoes. As such, the best time to make a caprese salad is anytime throughout the summer months when all varieties of tomatoes are in season- including, my personal favorite, heirloom tomatoes.
Heirloom tomatoes, while somewhat more expensive when compared to other tomato varieties such as Roma, Brandywine, or Beefsteak tomatoes, are worth their weight in gold (ok, somewhat exaggerated) when it comes to taste. They’re sweeter, more flavorful, and have an overall better texture when compared to other popular tomato varieties.
If heirloom tomatoes are not available or are simply out of your budget, sweet cherry tomatoes are my second choice. You’ll compromise on the overall look of the dish as cherry tomatoes are quite small and not meant be sliced, but the taste will be much better.
When selecting tomatoes, it’s important to use your nose first, and pick ones that are especially fragrant at the stem. They should be soft, but firm, and never mushy. Finally, they should feel heavy for their size. This is an indication that they’re extra juicy!
Caprese Salad Ingredients
To make this classic caprese salad recipe, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- Tomatoes – with so few ingredients, I encourage you to purchase the very best, most ripe tomatoes you can find. You will have the easiest time finding ripe tomatoes of all varieties in the summertime, but keep a lookout year-round as a surprise batch of ripe, delicious tomatoes may just turn up.
- Mozzarella – fresh, full-fat mozzarella that is packed in water is going to give you the best flavor. It should be creamy, rich, and moist- not dry like string cheese!
- Fresh Basil – If you can purchase a fresh basil plant verses a small bunch of pre-cut fresh basil, do it. The taste and aroma will be far better.
- Olive Oil – As with each of the other ingredients, fresh, delicious-tasting olive oil is paramount to a delicious caprese salad. This does not mean that you need to purchase the most expensive olive oil, just make sure it is one you think that’s good. I am personally fond of Cobram Estate Olive Oil.
- Salt and Pepper – Regular table salt is no good here. Try to use coarse flakey sea salt. The same can be said about pepper. Fresh cracked black pepper is always best.
How to make Caprese Salad
To make this caprese salad recipe, simply:
- Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella. Use a sharp knife to cut the tomatoes into slices approximately ¼” thick. Apply the same method to the mozzarella cheese, cutting it into slices approximately ¼-½” thick.
- Arrange. Arrange the sliced tomatoes and mozzarella onto over large serving platter or two smaller serving plates so that the tomatoes and the mozzarella are alternating. You may do this in any arrangement you wish, so be sure to have a little fun!
- Garnish, drizzle, and serve. Tuck a fresh basil leaf between each tomato and mozzarella layer, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Enjoy!
Over the years several variations of this beloved Italian salad have come into rotation.
- Caprese salad with balsamic. This is the most popular variation where, in addition to the olive oil, the caprese salad is drizzled with balsamic vinegar or a balsamic glaze.
- Olives. I see this one less often, but it is simply the addition of olives to the tomatoes and mozzarella.
- Buratta. As burrata cheese becomes more and more popular here in the US, so does the Caprese Salad Made with Burrata Cheese rather than classic mozzarella cheese.
- Add avocado. We all love avocado, so it makes sense that we would all love a Caprese Salad with Avocado and Balsamic Glaze.
- Add some sweet fruit. Summertime is all about fresh produce! Mix and match all those flavors and make something really amazing like this Strawberry and Blueberry Caprese Salad.
Or, you can make something totally unique as with this low-carb and gluten-free Cheesy Chicken Caprese Casserole.
What to serve with Caprese Salad
Caprese salad is typically served as an appetizer. As such, it’s best to enjoy this beautiful, fresh salad in all its glory before the main course. If, however, you’re looking to enjoy this insalata caprese as a light meal, you may wish to add some freshly baked bread on the side – perfect for sopping up all that leftover tomato juice and olive oil.
Other dishes that would pair well as a second or third course include:
- Easy Baked Ziti Recipe (How to Make Baked Ziti)
- Easy Pasta Primavera Recipe
- Drunken Clams with Italian Sausage and Polenta
- Chicken Breasts
- Spring Pea Pasta with Prosciutto and Burrata Cheese
For more salad recipes, check out:
- Tabbouleh (Tabouli Salad Recipe)
- Easy Spinach Salad Recipe with Apples
- Easy Fruit Salad Recipe
- Cucumber Salad Recipe
- Balsamic Tomato Basil Salad
- Chinese Chicken Salad Recipe
If you try making this Caprese Salad Recipe, please leave me a comment and let me know! I always love to hear your thoughts.
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Caprese Salad Recipe
- 4 ripe tomatoes - approx. 1/4-inch thick slices
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella - approx. 1/4-inch thick slices (see notes)
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves - about 1 small bunch)
- Extra-virgin olive oil - for drizzling
- salt + pepper - to taste
- Balsamic vinegar - (optional - not shown)
- Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella. Use a sharp knife to cut the tomatoes into slices approximately ¼" thick. Apply the same method to the mozzarella cheese, cutting it into slices approximately ¼-½" thick.
- Arrange. Arrange the sliced tomatoes and mozzarella onto over large serving platter or two smaller serving plates so that the tomatoes and the mozzarella alternate.
- Garnish, drizzle, and serve. Tuck a fresh basil leaf between each layer of tomato and mozzarella, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Enjoy!
- I recommend using a full-fat mozzarella. Ideally fresh or one that is packed in water as it will retain more moisture and creamyness.
- Allow your caprese salad to rest, covered, for 20-30 minutes before serving. This fives the tomatoes time to release some of their juices and their flavors to meld.