Caprese, also known as tortellini, is an easy Italian salad, typically made from sliced fresh tomato, mozzarella, basil, and sometimes topped with red peppers or mushrooms, sometimes decorated with olive oil and shredded parmesan cheese. It’s typically served on a plate at an Italian restaurant practice. Like pizzas Margherita and pizza, it features the colors of the Italian national flag: red, white, and green. The origin of the dish is said to be in Genoa, where a wealthy family would provide their servants with a basket of herbs each day. The herbs had then to be used the next day for preparing the meal.
Today, many cooks have taken this origin story and transformed it into a delicious and versatile dish. Most Caprese recipes use tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil, oregano, chopped zucchini, a little garlic, and a bit of salt and pepper. Other herbs can be added, like parsley, cilantro, chives, or even curry herbs (like mint or curry powder). Often fresh herbs are added in the marinade for a stronger flavor. For variation, try varying the amount of tomatoes and adding different cheeses or herbs to the marinades.
Traditionally, Caprese salads are served with olive oil and a crust of freshly cracked bread. Using a meat grinder, grind the ingredients to create a paste or puree, which is then applied to the tomatoes and cooked on the grill until crisp and brown. Traditional ingredients may include: olive oil, oregano, tomatoes (fresh or canned), Basil, Garlic, Parmesan cheese, Broccoli, Green beans, onions, Provolone cheese, Black olives, Lemon juice, Peanuts, Blueberries, and/or cranberries.
While a Caprese Salad is usually served cold, you can dress it up by serving it just minutes before you serve your guests. Simply mix together one tablespoon of chopped zucchini, one tablespoon of chopped fresh basil, one teaspoon of coarse sea salt, and two to three frozen peas. Spoon this mixture onto a lightly greased plate and place in a warm, empty dish. In just a few minutes, your Caprese Salad will be ready to serve.
While most Caprese salads are served with the base sauce made from the tomatoes, that is not the case for the version made with mozzarella cheese. Although the base is almost always cream, you can make a nice change by adding either cream cheese or mozzarella cheese to the base. To add the cheese, simply mix together three tablespoons of cream cheese and two to three cups of mozzarella cheese. Stir to combine. Serve this along with the sliced tomatoes.
A Caprese Salad also works well as an appetizer. With this delicious treat, you can make a simple meal turn into an interesting and delicious appetizer course. Simply prepare the tomatoes and mozzarella and slice the pieces to reveal layers of creamy cheese. Top with additional sliced basil leaves, and a drizzle of light olive oil to seal the deal and make your guests dip their fingers in excitement.
When the meal is served, the tomatoes and mozzarella should be placed on top of the caprese and allowed to slowly melt into the cream cheese mixture. If desired, sprinkle some extra basil leaves on top. At this point, you can serve the freshly sliced basil leaves on the plate for an added dose of color and flavor. Allow guests to dig into the succulent and creamy mixture.
The key to a successful Caprese recipe is using fresh, quality ingredients. Using frozen or canned items will eliminate the freshness from the ingredients. Leaving the cream cheese in its liquid form can create curdled milk that masks the true flavor of the Italian meat and allows it to lose its distinctive flavor. Caprese lovers are left only with the wonderful taste of the fresh mozzarella tomatoes and the Italian sausage that have been wrapped in the layers of cream cheese.