Simple Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

Insalata Caprese, salad in the style of Capri, is a simple classic Italian salad of fresh ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. The salad is also called Insalata Tricolore, or three-color salad, with the white mozzarella, red tomatoes and green basil representing the Italian flag. While all of these ingredients are readily available year round, this is one recipe I choose to eat only in the summer when the farmers markets are filled with local vine-ripened tomatoes and fragrant young basil leaves. The secret to this salad is buying the freshest ingredients and using excellent extra-virgin olive oil. I recommend not making this salad if you can't find good tomatoes, as you will be disappointed.

Variations of this salad can be found in many Italian restaurants. I have seen it on menus with black olives and anchovies, white and red onions, marinated artichoke hearts, topped with pine nuts, pesto, reduced balsamic vinegar and even California style topped with ripe slices of avocado. All of these variations are good, but if you want the true flavor of Insalata Caprese, try the classic recipe. The classic recipe would never add vinegar as that would detract from the delicate flavor of the mozzarella.

In some regions of Italy, the salad can be made with Mozzarella di Bufala, or buffalo mozzarella.This cheese has a softer texture and a sweeter flavor than cow's milk mozzarella.

On the island of Capri, where the salad originated in the 1950s, it was always made with cow's milk mozzarella, and fresh oregano and wild arugula leaves were often added as they were plentiful. The wild arugula leaves add a nice peppery contrast to the creamy milk mozzarella. Find the best Italian deli in your area and ask for their suggestions on fresh mozzarella. If you're lucky, your Italian deli might even make it.

I like serving the salad with a dark green like arugula or spinach or as part of a larger antipasti platter. Heirloom tomatoes with colors of yellow, red and green make a beautiful platter if you can find them or if you grow them yourself. With a crusty loaf of Tuscan-style bread and a glass of wine, you have the perfect summer lunch or first course.

Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

Serves: 4

  • 1 pound of fresh cow's milk mozzarella, drained and sliced into 1/4" slices
  • 4 large vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced 1/4" thick
  • Salt and pepper, preferably sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 20 fresh basil leaves, washed and spun dry
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil


  1. Arrange the cheese and tomato slices on 4 plates and season with salt.
  2. Tear the basil leaves and sprinkle over the salad and drizzle with olive oil.
  3. Season with freshly ground pepper and serve immediately.

Never refrigerate this salad. Prepare close to serving time.

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