I don’t know about you, but I always develop an appetite for healthy foods during the summer. It is in the summer that I feel the need to take the greatest care of my body, giving it as much nutrients as possible and taking advantage of the abundance of fruits and veggies. The summer season’s fresh produce always inspires me to come up with new ideas in the kitchen, and this summer makes no exception. It’s even better now, because since becoming pregnant I have miraculously started eating a lot healthier than before. The little one definitely knows how to stir me in the right direction food-wise. 🙂
Such was the case earlier this week, when out of the blue I decided to make a classic Italian favorite: caprese salad. The success of this salad largely depends upon the quality of the ingredients used: the fresher and more flavorful, the better. I had bought a few tomatoes on the vine from the local grocery store, and their refreshing taste and out-of-this-world juiciness drew me in and inspired me to use them in a salad. Basil could not miss from the picture, and I was lucky enough to have some readily available. I have a basil plant which I got for free from work a few months ago, and I’m very proud of it: It was really tiny when I got it, and it’s been doing well next to our other potted plants.
I also have an oregano plant in my garden. As you may remember, we are big fans of oregano and use it in dishes as often as we can. Most of the time I use dry oregano, which gives my chicken and pork dishes and my homemade pizza a very aromatic flavor. I couldn’t wait to use fresh oregano in a salad (a first for me) and I thought basil and oregano would complement each other beautifully – which they did.
I used bocconcini to make the salad, but you can use mozzarella balls of either smaller or larger size to suit your preferences. I also made a simple vinaigrette (3 parts extra virgin olive oil and 1 part white wine vinegar) to which I added the chopped oregano. Initially I wasn’t sure whether the salad would actually need vinegar since the tomatoes had some built-in acidity already. My husband and I tried the salad and came to the conclusion that, thankfully, I had made the right choice: The vinegar added an assertive, yet very pleasant flavor dimension to the seductive sweetness of the bocconcini.
2 tomatoes on the vine
1/2 lb fresh mozzarella
1 handful fresh basil leaves
1 handful fresh oregano
3 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Make the dressing first to give its components time to blend in. Wash and pat dry the oregano, then chop it as finely as you can. Put the olive oil and the vinegar in a bowl. Add the chopped oregano and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste, and mix some more.
Wash the tomatoes and slice them finely. Also wash the basil leaves and dry them with a paper towel. Cut the mozzarella into thin slices. Arrange the slices of tomato and mozzarella on a plate. I alternated two slices of bocconcini and one slice of tomato, but you can use only one slice of cheese if you’ve got a big fresh mozzarella ball. Put a basil leaf on each mozzarella. Drizzle the dressing on top. Serve the salad with fresh Italian bread.
I was happy with how this salad turned out, but I wanted to share in my happiness, so I saved some for my husband. He ate it when he got back from work and loved it because it was so simple, and yet so tasty. Freshness is what we definitely want in the summer, and this salad provided us with a “fresh fix” that was spot-on.
Caprese is a “back to basics” salad, which is difficult to make by mere virtue of its simplicity. There are no artificial gimmicks, everything is straightforward, and any mistakes are easy to spot. Do not give up on caprese salad though – once its secrets are mastered, the rewards are well worth it. You get a delicious flavor combination, in which the refreshing burst of tomato goodness comes together with the pure taste of the mozzarella and the assertive presence of the fresh herbs to create something unique, down to earth, and perfect. I don’t usually like to use “big” words, but I’ll say this: To me, caprese salad is perfection on a plate. 🙂