Caprese salad is a simple appetizer with ripe juicy tomatoes layered between thick slices of fresh mozzarella and fragrant basil leaves. This Italian salad is drizzled with a sweet and tangy balsamic reduction, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and cracked pepper.
Nothing celebrates the essence of Italy than a beautifully arranged plate of vibrant tomatoes, creamy 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 an herbaceous fresh element, with a slight licorice bite.
To add a little more excitement to the 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. Drizzled with the balsamic reduction, rich olive oil, salt, and pepper. This Caprese salad recipe 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 tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves overlapping on a serving platter.
- Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic reduction, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
How do you make a balsamic reduction?
A balsamic reduction combines vinegar and sweetener like honey and then evaporates some of the 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 to mellow out the pungency of the vinegar.
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 a little bit of warm water until you get the right consistency. You should be able to drizzle it over the salad and it will cling to the ingredients.
What are the key elements for a Caprese salad?
Since there are not many ingredients in a Caprese salad, make sure that 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 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 a robust and rich extra-virgin olive oil to add some earthiness to the salad.
This salad can also be made with bite-sized fresh mozzarella balls (ciliengine) and cherry tomatoes cut in half if you want 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 having to add 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.
- 3 tomatoes, about 3-inches in diameter
- 1 pound (454 g) fresh mozzarella, about 3-inch sized mozzarella balls
- 1 cup (240 ml) balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) honey
- 12 large basil leaves
- extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- kosher salt, for seasoning
- black pepper, for seasoning
- Add balsamic vinegar and honey to a small saucepan, stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer over medium-low heat with some bibbling.
- Reduce the sauce to about ¼ to ⅓ cup, about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Allow balsamic reduction to slightly cool. It should have a maple syrup consistency.
- The reduction will thicken as it cools, if needed add some warm water and heat over low to make the sauce less thick. For a thicker sauce reduce to ¼ cup.
- Cut mozzarella into 12 slices, about ¼-inch in thickness.
- Cut tomatoes into 12 slices, about ¼-inch in thickness
- Arrange tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil leaves, overlapping on a platter.
- Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- Drizzle salad with balsamic reduction, or serve on the side.
- Pure maple syrup can be substituted for honey in the balsamic vinegar reduction.
- If the balsamic reduction gets overly reduced and too thick to drizzle once slightly cooled, and a small amount of warm water to adjust the thickness. Reheat over low heat for a few minutes if needed.