I like to make this simple fresh tasting salad of tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil often in summer months when I have an abundance of tomatoes and basil but it can be made year around. The real classic Italian version, according to what I have heard, just layers those three and drizzles with olive oil. I like to make it with marinated mozzarella and then use infused oil on the salad. There are a couple ways to layer it but let me share the one I use when I am not looking to use up a huge amount of basil but instead just have a bit.
First I make up a flavorful olive oil. This last time for the baby shower, I infused the oil with Basil, Thyme and Marjoram. Infusing oils can be a bit tricky in this- once you add plant materials, especially those full of moisture like basil, garlic, or lemon zest, you MUST use the oil quickly for fear of spoilage or even botulism. The time you can keep the oil will increase if you infuse with heat, but for this recipe, I am making enough to be used in just a few days so I cold infuse it and store it in the refrigerator. Don’t be afraid of this, just remember to use it within 3 days or so. If you want to make ahead, use dried herbs. Once the moisture is dried out of the leaves, you could store the infused oil for much longer. I just add a fresh sprig or two when serving.
Of course- you do not need to make the oil. Buy olive oil already infused or even use a high quality store bought Italian or balsamic vinaigrette, although vinegar is not in traditional caprese. You can use a nice quality olive oil without any herbs at all. The infused oil tastes really good but it is fine to have this salad with other options!
Use fresh mozzarella not the aged kind. Fresh is soft, tender and very mild.
Alright, on to the recipe...
Insalata Caprese with infused Olive Oil
12-16 oz fresh mozerella, log shaped is best for slicing in ¼” or so slices
Olive Oil infused with Basil, Thyme and Marjoram (recipe below)
4 or so large ripe roma or other tomato, in about ¼ inch slices
¼ -1/3 cup fresh basil leaves,
Make the infused oil if you are using it. After it has had a chance to meld for between 2-12 hours, slice the mozzarella. It is easier to slice if it is very cold. Place in bag or container with ½ of the infused oil (or salad dressing or olive oil) and put in the refrigerator for another 1-4 hours. (If you need to do this before work for dinner party, you could wait up to 8 but 2-4 is best. ) Again, you could skip this step and use plain mozzarella.
Find a large round glass dish like a large pie or quiche pan, Slice tomatoes and remove mozzarella from marinade, reserving marinade. Pour a small puddle of oil used in marinade in bottom of pan. Then, starting in the center, layer mozzarella and tomato in a circular pattern. (If you have a huge crop of basil you could layer with basil too)
Once the circle is complete, cut the basil in a chiffonade. By that I mean- take about 8 leaves of basil, stack them on top of one another, roll them up like a cigar and make small slices. You can also make larger slices for this salad. (Or just chop the basil any way you desire)Generously sprinkle basil on top. Drizzle with some more of the infused olive oil and then place some of the oil in a pretty carafe and leave next to salad to be added as desired.
Serve with bread or crackers for an appetizer or as a salad.
Store left over oil in the refrigerate and use within 3-4 days or discard. Do not use after four days if you used basil or fresh herbs to infuse!
Olive Oil infused with Basil, Thyme and Marjoram
¼ c Basil
Fresh herbs-6 sprigs or 3 tsp dried herbs
½ tsp garlic powder and ½ tsp lemon pepper
1 cup good tasting fresh olive oil
Have a pan of boiling water and about ¼ cup basil leaves. Blanch them for a minute or two then remove with slotted spoon or strainer. Pat dry. In same water, add 6 sprigs of fresh herbs---thyme and/or marjoram and/or rosemary—whatever you have on hand. (If you don’t have fresh herbs, dried is great but skip the blanching for dried herbs.) Blanch 1 minute and remove and pat dry.
In food processor or blender, blend up basil and a half cup of olive oil till smooth with very fine bits left. Let this sit in food processor for about 20 minutes then strain through a very fine sieve into large salad dressing container or mini pitcher or covered bowl. Add another ½ cup of oil and the sprigs or dried herbs. Add garlic powder and perhaps some lemon pepper.
Put this into the refrigerator to meld for 2 -12 hours. If it is too thick to pour, let it set our for afew minutes or heat a bit. After that, use ½ to marinate mozzarella and save the rest to serve with the salad. Use up left over oil within 3-4 days-- Do NOT use after four days if you used basil or fresh herbs to infuse! If you used only dried herbs it can keep for much longer, store in the refrigerator to be safe.