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August 3, 2012

Edible Objective:
Sizzling Caprese Salad

BY
BRAD MERCIL

Sizzling Caprese Salad
It's been a long hot summer in Chicago and I love to visit the farmer's markets and get fresh locally grown produce. The big beefsteak and heirloom tomatoes are one of the items I look for. You only get these once a year so I like to really make of the most of them. Because the tomatoes are so fresh and ripe, they are perfect for one of the summer classics, Insalata Caprese Salad.

During this time of year we often have Caprese salad as our entire meal. A big platter of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and good olive oil is so satisfying. Everything is no more than a few hours off the vine or out of the ground and the combination works so well together.

Sizzling Caprese Salad
I like beefsteak tomatoes for Caprese salad. They are a nice round tomato and are roughly the same size as the fresh mozzarella balls. When I'm at the farmers market, I'll pick some that are really ripe so we can eat them when we get home. And then we'll put others on the counter, away from sunlight, and let them ripen up. I don't recommend putting tomatoes in direct sunlight; that just cooks the tomato as it sits there.

Fresh mozzarella for your Caprese salad is key. If you can find a cheese market near you that makes its own fresh mozzarella, it's really worth the effort. In Chicago we have several markets that make their own and I have purchased fresh mozzarella from Caputos Cheese Market on many occasions as it's always been top notch. Some of the common sizes you'll see are:

Log/Loaf - 1 pound
Ovolini - 4 ounce balls
Bocconcini - 1.5 ounce balls
Ciliegine - .33 ounce balls

I always go with the Ovolini if I can get it; I like nice big slices so that they almost cover the entire slice of tomato.

Sizzling Caprese Salad
This year we planted our basil in the ground instead of a large pot and because we've had such a long hot summer, the basil has just gone crazy. We've been able to add fresh basil to all kinds of dishes. I just walk out the back door, cut some nice big green vibrant leaves, rinse them, and run them through the salad spinner. We have a lot of basil this year. Usually it's the other way around as I'm trying to hold back and not completely pick our basil plants clean.

When it comes to the olive oil I recommend that you splurge. You're going to be directly tasting and eating the olive oil so you want to have a rich flavor. Recently, we've been using lemon olive oil on our Caprese salad and I would strongly suggest that you give this a try.

Some other additions to Caprese salad that you can think about are adding a few slices of avocado along with the fresh mozzarella and drizzling some balsamic vinegar. If you wanted to really get fancy with the balsamic vinegar you can reduce it until it gets to almost the consistency of a glaze and then drizzle this over the salad.

So let's get started... ...

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Insalata Caprese Salad

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**Ingredients**

3 medium to large beefsteak tomatoes cut into ¼" slices
1 pound fresh mozzarella cut into ¼" slices
20 to 30 fresh basil leaves
Extra virgin olive oil (lemon flavored)
Fresh ground sea salt or kosher salt

**Optional**

Avocado slices
Balsamic vinegar (reduced)

Sizzling Caprese Salad
**Preparation**

On a large cutting board, slice the tomatoes and mozzarella. On a shallow platter or large dinner plate alternate the slices of tomato, mozzarella and basil leaves. Optionally, add slices of avocado and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Drizzle olive oil over the entire platter and season with salt.

 
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