Chopped Caprese Salad

This is the best time of year to make Caprese salad. I have a farmers’ market a half-mile from my house and they have so many varieties of tomatoes in varying stages of ripeness right now. I always hate how the oil and vinegar in Caprese salad drips below the sliced tomatoes, so I make a chopped version that can be tossed to coat the tomatoes.

Chopped Caprese Salad

  • 2 very ripe heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 very young red tomato
  • 1 tart, green tomato
  • 1 ball of fresh mozzarella
  • 1 handful of basil, chopped
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • salt & pepper to taste

The key to this recipe is buying the right tomatoes. Regular red tomatoes from the grocery store are picked green, usually in Florida or Mexico, and they ripen and turn red in transit. The fact that they’re picked too early means that they don’t develop much of a taste. Think about that slice of tomato on top of a Big Mac. It has a mealy texture and tastes like water, right? It’s a purely aesthetic addition. Buying tomatoes at the farmers’ market usually means they were allowed to ripen on the plant. Plus, you can get heirloom varieties that you don’t usually see in stores.

Cut the stems off the tomatoes and quarter them. Strip and squeeze the seeds out and rinse the tomato wedges under cool, running water. When all of the tomatoes are clean, roughly chop them into cubes. Toss them all into a bowl and top with olive oil and basil. Next, chop the mozzarella into equal-sized cubes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and mix well.

The key to this salad is the balsamic reduction. I usually make a batch every couple of months and keep it in the fridge. You just reduce 2 cups of balsamic vinegar by half over medium heat. The wider the pan, the quicker it’ll go. When it’s down to 1 cup, you incorporate a teaspoon of honey to round out the bitterness. I keep mine in an old honey bottle and use it to dress salads, vegetables, pastas, and even desserts.

After the salad has sat out for about fifteen minutes, the salt will have drawn some of the water out of the tomatoes. Now’s a good time to mix it all thoroughly and then squeeze the balsamic reduction over the salad just before serving.

Assuming that you already have the oil, vinegar, and basil on hand, this salad costs around $6 and should last two people a couple of meals.

NOTE: Only use fresh mozzarella if you think the salad will be eaten within a day or two. If the salad will sit in the fridge for longer than that, or if you’re making it in advance, use a stiffer mozzarella. The fresher cheese breaks down in the vinegar and gets a little mushy over time. The stiffer cheese doesn’t soak up the oil and vinegar quite as much as the softer stuff, but it retains its shape and tastes great.

Also, try not to breathe in too deeply when you’re reducing the vinegar. It’s like snorting battery acid.

Chopped Caprese Salad
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