Easy Caprese salad recipe with ripe, juicy tomatoes layered between thick slices of fresh mozzarella and fragrant basil leaves. This crowd-pleasing Italian salad is drizzled with a sweet and tangy balsamic reduction, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and cracked black pepper.
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Nothing celebrates the essence of Italy more than a beautifully arranged plate of vibrant tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, and sweet basil. It’s all about selecting the ripest tomatoes in season. The natural sweetness and juicy flesh complement the delicate flavor of the cheese. Whole basil adds a fresh herbaceous element with a slight licorice bite.
To add a little more excitement to this summer salad, I made a simple homemade balsamic glaze. The honey and vinegar reduce until syrupy, the perfect 2-ingredient flavor booster to add a little tang. Drizzle with balsamic reduction, rich olive oil, salt, and pepper. This recipe for Caprese salad is an elegant, low-key antipasto.
How to make Caprese salad
- Combine balsamic vinegar and honey in a saucepan.
- Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
- Cook until reduced to a slightly thickened syrup.
- Arrange sliced tomato and mozzarella overlapping on a serving platter with fresh basil leaves.
- Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic reduction, and sprinkle with flaky sea salt and pepper.
How do you make a balsamic reduction?
A balsamic reduction combines vinegar and sweetener like honey and then evaporates some water from the mixture to create a thicker consistency. It is first brought to a boil to get the process going and then turned down to a simmer so that the sugars in the honey don’t burn. This process takes about 20 minutes to concentrate the honey solids and mellow out the vinegar’s pungency.
The reduction should have a pure maple syrup texture. It will thicken slightly as it cools. If the sauce is over-reduced and gets hard when cooled, add warm water until you get the right consistency. Like a balsamic vinaigrette, you drizzle it over the salad, but in this case, it will cling more to the ingredients.
What are the key elements for a Caprese salad?
Since there are few ingredients in a Caprese salad, ensure they are all high quality. The tomatoes should be ripe and, when lightly squeezed, have a slight give and not be mushy or hard.
Use fresh semi-soft mozzarella cheese that’s easy to slice but holds its shape. Burrata cheese can be used, but it’s much softer in texture and won’t hold shape, yet it has a divine, almost melty texture. Do not use a harder grating type of cheese like you would for lasagna.
If possible, use fresh-picked basil or make sure it’s bright green with no bruising if already clipped. I use robust and rich extra-virgin olive oil to add earthiness to the salad.
This salad can also be made with bite-sized fresh mozzarella balls (ciliengine) and cherry tomatoes cut in half to make it easier to serve.
More salad recipes
What makes a reduction sauce thick?
A reduction sauce is an easy way to thicken liquids without adding a thickening agent like flour or cornstarch. The key is to evaporate some of the water, which concentrates the sweetener and vinegar solids, resulting in a more viscous sauce. The more water removed, the harder it will be to pour, so make sure not to over-reduce.
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- 3 tomatoes, about 3" in diameter
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella, about 3" sized mozzarella balls
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 12 large basil leaves
- extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- kosher salt, for seasoning
- black pepper, for seasoning
- Balsamic Reduction – Add balsamic vinegar and honey to a small saucepan, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer over medium-low heat with some bubbling. Reduce the sauce to about ¼ to ⅓ cup, about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Cool the Reduction – Allow the balsamic reduction to cool slightly. It should have a maple syrup consistency. The reduction will thicken as it cools, if needed add warm water and heat over low to make the sauce less thick. For a thicker sauce, reduce to ¼ cup.
- Prepare the Ingredients – Cut the mozzarella into 12 slices, about ¼-inch in thickness. Cut the tomatoes into 12 slices, about ¼-inch in thickness. Arrange tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil leaves, overlapping on a platter.
- To Serve – Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Drizzle salad with balsamic reduction, or serve on the side.
- Substitute for Honey: Pure maple syrup can be substituted for honey in the balsamic vinegar reduction.
- Thin the Consistency: If the balsamic reduction gets overly reduced and too thick to drizzle once slightly cooled, add a small amount of warm water to adjust the thickness. Reheat over low heat for a few minutes if needed.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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