This Caprese salad is simple, delicious, and takes five minutes to pull together for a quick appetizer or meal. Just add a little bread and it turns lunch or dinner into something light, healthy, and totally satisfying. The key to a good Caprese salad is the ingredients — use the sweetest tomatoes you can find, the creamiest mozzarella (whether it be buffalo or cow’s milk) available, and a light and fruity extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, a little sea salt and you’re all set. A really delicious salad to eat on the hotter summer days. If you love Caprese salad, we’ve got one with a twist you may also enjoy, check it out over here.
Where Does Caprese Salad Come From?
The original Caprese salad comes from the Campagna region of Italy. You’ll find some of the best pizza, lemons, cherries, tomatoes, and mozzarella in this region which includes the cities of Naples, Capri, Sorrento, and the rest of the Amalfi coast. This is where Limoncello, the famous San Marzano tomato, and Pizza come from, and like much of Italy, it’s a place where you want to eat whatever they’re serving. Caprese salad originated in 1920 at Hotel Quisisana on an evening when a special dinner had been organized for the poet, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (founder and author of the Futurist Manifesto).
What’s in a Caprese Salad?
Marinetti was known to criticize the traditional Neopolitan cuisine saying it was too fatty and too fried, so the restaurateur wanted to impress the poet by giving him something light and tasty (and it worked). “l’Insalata Caprese” was born. Marinetti apparently loved the caprese salad (as did the rest of Capri and all of Italy and the world eventually). The original Caprese Salad consists of sweet vine-ripened tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and a sprinkling of oregano. You’ll often find it in the States and other countries served with a little balsamic vinegar, but you won’t find it in Italy served this way. The great thing about making your own at home is that you get to decide how you want to eat it.
Italian Caprese Salad (l’insalata Caprese) Ingredients
Buy the best ingredients have available because in a salad with so ingredients, there’s no room to hide. Each component really matters. If you have fresh tomatoes coming out of the garden, use them — they taste amazing.
- 1 ball of fresh mozzarella, strained and evenly sliced
- Fiascone San Marzano tomato, or Datterino Dolcissimo tomatoes (or any sweet summer variety), sliced
- extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt to taste
- fresh basil leaves
- dried or fresh oregano (optional)
You can make Caprese salad in a bowl all tossed together, on a platter with the tomatoes resting under the mozzarella, or more neatly alternating slices of tomatoes with mozzarella. Basically, you can make this salad any way you want. Here in Italy, you’ll most often find it layered with alternating slices of mozzarella and tomato with three or four fresh basil leaves. We like extra basil, so we use it.
How to Make Caprese Salad (l’insalata Caprese) With Grape or Cherry Tomatoes
- Arrange a bed of sliced tomatoes on a serving dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt to taste.
- Place sliced mozzarella on top, drizzle with a little more olive oil and sprinkle with salt to taste.
- Add a few leaves of fresh basil to the tops of the mozzarella and allow to rest 5 minutes before serving to allow the tomatoes to release their juices and for the mozzarella to release a little of its milk and the flavors to meld together. Enjoy as a light lunch with bread, or an appetizer to share before dinner, or for aperitvo with a glass of good bubbly or Pinot Grigio.
How to Make Caprese Salad (l’insalata Caprese) With San Marzano or Other Large Table Tomato
- Slice tomatoes and mozzarella into similar sizes.
- Starting with a tomato, arrang it on a serving platter, add a slice of mozzarella but make sure you can still see the tomato behinde it. Repeat with the remaining tomato and mozzarella slices.
- Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt to taste.
- Add a few leaves of fresh basil to the tops of the mozzarella and allow to rest 5 minutes before serving to allow the tomatoes to release their juices and for the mozzarella to release a little of its milk and allow the flavors to meld together. Enjoy as a light lunch with bread, or an appetizer to share before dinner, or for aperitvo with a glass of good bubbly or Pinot Grigio.
Making Caprese salad wherever you are in the world
In Chengdu, Sichuan (China) Metro Cash and Carry sells frozen fresh balls of mozzarella and while the quality doesn’t compare to what’s available here, I can’t tell you how many times I made a simple Caprese salad out of it when I was missing Italy and Italian food. And in NYC and all across the States, there are tons of places to buy excellent freshly made or imported Mozzarella. You can even learn how to make your own. I used to volunteer for the cheese-making and cheese education classes at Murray’s Cheese in Greenwich Village. It’s an iconic NYC institution and offers amazing cheeses from all over the world. In fact, some of the best cheeses I’ve had outside of Europe have come from Murray’s and Essex Street Cheese and they both deliver to you wherever you are in the country if you happen to be a cheese-lover.
Looking for More Delicious Italian Dishes to Try?
If you’re looking for a few other ideas for Italian dinner inspiration, (photographed above) here are a few of our favorites. Some are super quick and easy while others take a little more time (and love) to pull off, but every bit worth it.
- Anniversary Pasta (Spicy Shrimp Tomato-Alfredo Sauce w/Rigatoni)
- How to Make Venetian Duck Ragù w/Bigoli Pasta (Bigoli al Ragù d’Anatra)
- Asparagus & Ham Lasagna (w/Asparagus Bechamel)
- Classic Lasagna Bolognese (authentic Italian recipe)
- Radiatore Pasta with Sautéed Zucchini + Corn
- Shrimp Fettuccini Alfredo Pasta Recipe (w/Parmigiano Cream Sauce)
- Baked Ziti with Ragù (from Scratch)
- 15-Minute Shrimp Pasta w/Garganelli (the Italian Way)
- Spaghetti alla Carbonara (Cook Pasta Like A Roman)
- Tagliatelle al Ragù (Northern Italian Beef Ragù w/Pasta)
- Cajun Style Royal Red Shrimp Pasta for One (or a crowd)
- Triple Shrimp Trighetto Pasta (Creamy Shrimp Pasta)
- Mediterranean Pigtail Pasta Salad with Shrimp (Featuring Sautéed Vegetables + Fresh Mozzarella)
- Italian Langoustine Shrimp Scampi w/Rigatoni Pasta (Mezze Maniche agli Scampi)
- Italian Duck Ragù w/Pappardelle Pasta (Pappardelle al Ragù d’Anatra)
Below, Italian vending machines in our neighborhood selling fresh mozzarella balls, Grana Padano, ricotta, stracciatella, mascarpone, and more. We’re never far from great cheese.
Caprese Salad tips + tricks + FAQ’s
- When was the Caprese Salad invented? The Caprese Salad originated in Capri, Italy, and is thought to have originated by a man wanting to pay homage to his country by creating a salad that would reflect the colors of and pay homage to the Italian Flag. Another story of how the Caprese Salad is thought to have originated is to appease the palates of vacationing Royalty and politicians when visiting the island of Capri.
- When was the Caprese Salad first made? The first record of Caprese Salad being in written form comes from the early 1920s when it first appeared on the menu of Hotel Quisisana, but the hoards of tourists that take over Capri, Italy each year it was inevitable that this delicious salad would go global and be so loved that you can find it on menus throughout the world today.
- What ingredients are in a Caprese Salad? Fresh mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, olive oil, and sea salt.
- When do you eat a Caprese Salad? You can eat a Caprese Salad any time of day, but in Italy, it’s not eaten as a side, but rather as an antipasto (appetizer), or as a light full meal on its own.
- Is Caprese Salad served cold or room temperature? Caprese is typically served at room temperature which allows for the juice from the salted tomatoes, and the milk from the mozzarella and the olive oil to all blend together for ultimate flavor. Waiting 5-10 minutes to serve a Caprese Salad once it’s been plated or made, allows for all of the wonderful flavors to enhance one another and the basil to perfume the liquids.
- Is Caprese Salad Healthy? Yes, Caprese Salad is healthy as it only contains about 247 calories per 100g (3 1/2 ounce) ball of mozzarella, 60 calories for every 1/2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, throw in about 33 calories for one large tomato and that’s a pretty healthy lunch or dinner.