Caprese salad with basil oil and balsamic syrup

The case for Caprese

Originally appeared in the July 7, 2011 edition of The Southside Times.

My reticence in featuring a Caprese salad was rooted in my unflinching suspicion that it’d been overdone—that readers would glance at the recipe’s title only to supply an uninspired mental shrug.  Currently, the Caprese salad is a pervasive staple on restaurant menus.  But sadly, many of these interpretations are poorly executed, doing little justice to such a renowned and refreshing pairing.  Yet, properly prepared, the effects are culinarily indelible.  Read the rest after the jump:You might have noticed that the tri-colored combination of tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil is a salute to the Italian flag.  So in the spirit of trinities, I’ll offer three reasons why this dish is a classic.

First is timing.  Around here, La Caprese appears on menus during a seasonal window when ingredients are at their peak.  Which leads me to the second reason:  simplicity.  You have two main components with the addition of basil; but if you want to add an extra bit of personality, add a touch of balsamic vinegar.  And number three: personal hallmarks.  Our experiences within shifting seasons supplies an amalgamation for our memories and our senses.  It feels good to revisit familiar things.  And while familiarity may breed contempt, the classic La Caprese has earned an enduring exemption.

Caprese salad with basil oil and balsamic syrup

Serves 2 – 4

  • 4 vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced thick
  • 16 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced thick
  • 4 ounces fresh basil leaves
  • 8 ounces extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup premium balsamic vinegar
  • ½ tablespoon all-purpose flour

1.  For basil oil: drop 2 ounces of basil leaves in boiling water for 20 seconds until color becomes vibrant.  Quickly plunge basil into ice-cold water to retain color.  Remove, pat dry, and add to a blender; pour in olive oil and blend (adding more oil if needed) until oil is bright green.  Strain mixture through mesh sieve and set aside.

2.  For syrup: in small sauce pan, bring balsamic vinegar to a simmer; in a small bowl, add a few tablespoons of vinegar along with flour and mix with your finger, making sure to eliminate clumps.  Pour flour-vinegar mixture into balsamic to thicken (adjust consistency with water).  Allow to cool.

3.  Arrange tomatoes, mozzarella, and remaining 2 ounces of basil on plates by stacking ingredients.  Serve with basil oil and balsamic syrup.

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