Caprese salad (or insalata Caprese) is a simple salad made with ripe tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil. We have hundreds of recipes on Inspired Taste and if you were to ask which recipe we make the most often, it would, hands down, be this Caprese salad. This simple tomato and mozzarella salad is at it’s best in summer when tomatoes are ripe and abundant.
Related: Here’s another summer salad we love, try our tomato panzanella salad!
What You Need to Make Caprese Salad
Traditionally, Caprese salad combines slices of tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil, salt, pepper and a drizzle of quality extra virgin olive oil. Here in the United States, you might see Caprese salad with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or maybe tossed with a little basil pesto. While we love balsamic and adore pesto, when making Caprese salad in our kitchen, we keep it classic.
Use Great Tomatoes
Since tomatoes make most of what’s in this salad, it’s important that you use quality, ripe tomatoes. I’m sure you’ve sliced into a less than stellar tomato before. Unfortunately, if you were to use that tomato for this salad, the salad just wouldn’t be very good.
I wish we had access to amazing tomatoes all year round, but that’s just not the case where we live. Here in Washington State, we gain access to the best tomatoes in mid to late summer then it’s a race against time to consume as many Caprese salads as we can ?
From our photos, you can see that we used a variety of tomatoes — a couple heirloom tomatoes, some vine ripened garden tomatoes, and a handful of sweet cherry tomatoes. I love the look and texture of a variety of shapes and sizes when it comes to tomato salad.
How to Choose the Best Tomatoes — Big Tomatoes
When it comes to picking larger tomatoes, look for the following keys:
- Look for a consistent color across the tomato — green or yellow patches might indicate that the tomato isn’t as ripe as it could be. (Note, there are green tomato varieties, which are quite delicious. When choosing them, if the green tomato is soft, then it’s most likely ripe).
- Tomatoes should feel heavy for their size (when you’re picking up the tomato to feel its weight, try not to squeeze it or else you might bruise it).
- Give the tomato a sniff. Ripe tomatoes smell earthy and sweet. The more lovely it smells, the better chance of a perfect tomato.
How to Choose the Best Tomatoes — Little Tomatoes
When it comes to picking smaller tomatoes (like cherry tomatoes), look for the following keys:
- Look for a consistent color across the tomato.
- Look for a smooth exterior and skip any that look wrinkled. Sweet, ripe cherry tomatoes should look plump for their size.
- Give them a sniff, just like with larger tomatoes, the smell of smaller tomatoes is a good indication of how ripe and flavorful they will be.
Use the Best Mozzarella Available to You
Fresh mozzarella is best for Caprese salad. It’s soft and holds onto the olive oil, salt, pepper, and the juices that the tomatoes release as they sit with the salt.
Burrata, which has an almost cream-like middle, is also an option. When I add buratta to salads, I like to keep it whole until we are ready to eat. Then I pierce the middle and allow the creamy inside to fall out over the tomatoes and basil.
Use a High Quality Olive Oil
The salad dressing for Caprese salad is made up of any liquid that the tomatoes release onto the plate, salt, pepper, and olive oil. It’s because of this that you want to use an olive oil you love the flavor of. I personally gravitate towards olive oil that tastes fresh, nutty, and a little grassy. We have a few bottles in our kitchen, but do enjoy Partanna and California Olive Ranch, which are both available in higher end grocery stores and online.
I buy extra virgin olive oil, which is the highest classification given to bottles of olive oil. The quality still varies among bottles of extra virgin olive oil, but it does mean that it’s gone through minimal processing, which tells you that they have the most flavor and aroma compared to regular olive oil.
Layer the Salad
My last tip for making the best Caprese salad is to treat it like a layered salad. I choose a wide bowl or plate and then start with a layer of tomato slices. Those slices get a sprinkle of salt, some pepper, and a small drizzle of olive oil then I tuck in some basil leaves and mozzarella pieces that I’ve simply pulled apart into small chunks. (You can slice the mozzarella if you prefer, but I love how rustic the pulled apart mozzarella looks. I also think the scraggly edges of the cheese hold onto the olive oil, salt/pepper, and tomato juices, which makes it extra delicious.)
Once I have one layer done, I’ll add another layer, repeating with tomatoes, salt, pepper, basil, mozzarella, and the olive oil. By layering and seasoning as I go, I guarantee that every bite of the salad is seasoned and delicious.
What to Serve with Caprese Salad
I’m happy to polish off an entire plate of Caprese salad without any help from others or other dishes. That said, here are a few simple dishes you can serve alongside the salad:
- Grilled bread that’s been rubbed with a little raw garlic (we do this for our tomato bruschetta)
- Grilled or simply cooked chicken, like with this Caprese Chicken Salad
- Warm homemade focaccia — see our recipe for Rosemary Garlic Focaccia
- Grilled or sautéed shrimp like these Shrimp Scampi or these Roasted Cocktail Shrimp
More Easy Tomato Recipes
- Our simple, three-ingredient tomato soup is one of our most popular recipes. You wouldn’t think that three ingredients — butter, onion, and tomato — can come together to make such a velvety and delicious tomato soup, but let me tell you. They can.
- This cherry tomato and feta salad is undeniably simple, but that doesn’t mean it won’t blow you away.
- If you have leftover tomatoes, make a batch of fresh pico de gallo. We spoon this homemade tomato salsa over everything!
- Serve this colorful chopped tomato, onion, and cucumber salad with or over anything. With tomatoes, onion, cucumber, parsley, and a simple vinaigrette, the salad is crunchy, ultra-flavorful and is vegetarian.
How to Make The Best Caprese Salad
Caprese salad (or insalata Caprese) is a simple salad made with ripe tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil. For the best classic Caprese salad, it’s important to use quality ingredients. Check our article for tips on choosing tomatoes, mozzarella, and olive oil.
You Will Need
1 pound ripe tomatoes, see notes
4 to 5 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
Handful fresh basil leaves
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
1Slice tomatoes into thin slices. For a more rustic salad with lots of shapes and textures, we leave some slices as full circles and slice a few into half moon shapes. If using smaller tomatoes, like cherry tomatoes, slice in half and thirds, which also adds a variety of shapes and sizes to the salad.
2Tear the mozzarella cheese into smaller chunks.
3Pick basil leaves from the stem. Leave smaller leaves whole and tear larger leaves in half or into quarters.
4Arrange half of the tomatoes onto a serving plate and lightly season with salt and pepper. Add a light drizzle of the olive oil, and then tuck some of the basil and a few pieces of the torn mozzarella in and around the tomatoes. Repeat with the remaining tomatoes, seasoning them with salt and pepper, and layering in more basil and mozzarella.
5Set the salad aside for 5 to 15 minutes, in this time, the salt with draw some of the juices out of the tomatoes, which makes an incredibly delicious dressing at the bottom of the plate (perfect for sopping up with bread).
Adam and Joanne's Tips
- Caprese salad is best served within an hour or two after making. More than that and the tomatoes will lose some of their texture.
- We love using a mixture of sizes, colors, and varieties of tomato. Choose smooth skinned, heavy tomatoes that smell sweet and earthy.
- Burrata cheese is an excellent substitute to fresh mozzarella and has an almost molten middle of cream. If using burrata, layer the seasoned tomatoes and basil first, then place a ball of burrata right on top of the salad. When it is pierced, the creamy inside will fall over the salad.
- Nutrition Facts: The nutrition facts provided below are estimates. We have used the USDA database to calculate approximate values.