Caprese: the ultimate summer salad
The first time I grew my own tomatoes was in an unlikely spot: in terracotta pots on a sun-drenched rooftop spitting distance from the Palazzo Vecchio. They were a great success and now that we are lucky enough to have our own little vegetable patch, where we’ve grown many more things from broad beans to kale, we’ve continued growing them from seed.
I’ve found there’s nothing more satisfying than eating a tomato that you’ve grown yourself, freshly picked and warm from the sun.
Our favourite tomatoes to grow are San Marzano, an elongated plum tomato, wonderfully sweet and fleshy. They’re easy to grow and very productive. Because they don’t have many seeds, they’re great for making passata and sauces, but also delicious fresh – especially when you are growing them yourself and can leave them to fully ripen on the vine before picking them.
Growing your own also means you can try heirloom tomato varieties like black russians, costoluto (a large, ribbed fruit, said to be one of the oldest tomato varieties and another great one for sauces) or blushing, pinkish plum tomatoes.
Pretty and flavourful tomatoes are perfect for this caprese salad, the ultimate Mediterranean summer salad. Named for its hometown of the island of Capri, near Naples, this simple salad consists of slices of tomato interwoven with fresh buffalo mozzarella and basil, dressed in just extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Like anything this simple, it calls for good ingredients, so seek out proper fresh mozzarella, ripe tomatoes and the very best olive oil.
I’ve used a mix of tomatoes, including green tomatoes and heirloom varities for a multi-coloured salad. It’s traditional to slice the tomatoes and mozzarella, but here, some tomatoes are quartered and the mozzarella is torn. The secret to a good caprese (or any tomato salad) is letting the tomatoes ‘marinate’ in salt – during this time the salt draws out the water from the tomato and a wonderful ‘juice’ is produced, which, when combined with the olive oil and the liquid from proper mozzarella, creates the perfect dressing.
- Fresh tomatoes
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 ball of buffalo mozzarella, torn into pieces
- basil leaves, torn if large
Slice or quarter the tomatoes and place in a bowl with a good pinch or two of sea salt, plenty of black pepper and an obscene amount of olive oil. When you think you might have enough, add just another splash more. Leave to marinate for at least 20 minutes and up to an hour. Strain the tomatoes, reserving the juice, and place in serving bowl with the torn pieces of mozzarella and basil leaves. Pour over as much of the juice as you like, finish with a fine drizzle of olive oil and serve.