People outside of the state of New Jersey tend to have a poor understanding of how, or why, this IS the Garden State. And that’s reasonable if you’ve only ever seen Newark Airport. But the fact of the matter is, this place can grow and make some serious eats! And nothing is more special than our beloved Jersey tomatoes! And what better way to showcase Jersey’s favorite produce, than with a simple and classic Italian salad!?
A classic Caprese salad is fresh tomato, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil, sliced, layered and seasoned very simply with salt and olive oil. It’s meant to look like the Italian flag (green, white and red). In my house, we do it a LITTLE differently. Why? As best I can tell it’s because this was how my Gram always made it, and my dad likes, so there. My version adds in fresh cucumber and turns it into a chopped caprese salad! We also like to add some balsamic to it - because if I’m being honest, I could drink the stuff!
As with any dish that has a handful of ingredients, you want to make sure that you’ve got the best stuff in your bowl so each can shine. Local produce (notice I didn’t necessarily say organic), I feel is best. The closer to your house you can get it - the better! And in this case the same goes for fresh mozzarella. Because it is a fresh and perishable product, you want to get it and use it ASAP. Olive oil too. While in this case I recommend looking for an purely Italian oil (yes, California makes a great EVOO, but I have my biases like everyone else!). Italy has done a lot to help Americans understand what good olive oil is. Look for their D.O.P. or P.G.I. labels on the bottles. That means the product was grown, harvested and produced according to what Italy has established as the proper way to make oil. Some of them are even region specific! Look for the same symbol on your balsamic vinegar. There’s only two locations on the planet that can make REAL balsamic vinegar. Everything else is just bad wine.
Once you’ve got your high quality ingredients together, the salad is easy! You can make it ahead if you’d like and not put the dressing on until it’s time to serve. your tomatoes will lose some liquid but not much. I wouldn’t let it sit for more than a day in the fridge with or without dressing. If you have a LOT leftover, toss it with some fresh lettuce greens to make a new salad OR some cooked grains like rice or faro to make a grain salad! Although, I’m not expecting you’ll have a lot of leftovers with this bad boy!
Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a main (yes I eat this as a meal)
1 medium cucumber, chopped
2-3 medium tomatoes, chopped
6-7 ciliegie mozzarella balls, halved
4-5 leaves fresh basil, chopped
1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1.5 tsp. balsamic vinegar
Combine cucumber, tomatoes, mozzarella and basil in a bowl.
Season with salt and pepper. Add oil and vinegar. Toss to coat everything.