Caprese salad is a classic: tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, and balsamic. But this is a caprese salad that you can be proud of. Really, really proud. Let’s get into it:
Salad (for 4 as a main course, 8 as a side)
- 4 large heirloom tomatoes. Use different colors to increase visual interest.
- 1 pint baby heirloom tomatoes. Use different colors and sizes.
- 2 ears of corn, shucked and charred
- 2 avocados, sliced
- 1 small shallot, sliced (if you can’t find shallots, use 1/4 cup red onion, sliced & cut into quarters)
- 6 strawberries, sliced
- 1/3 cup blueberries
- 2 burratas (usually caprese has fresh mozzarella. If you can’t find burrata, use fresh mozzarella and slice it yourself. Don’t buy that pre-sliced crap)
- 1 cup basil leaves, washed and dried
- 1 cup neutral oil: canola, vegetable, and avocado oil are all great
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey (optional)
- 2 Tablespoons orange juice (or grapefruit or lemon juice, also optional)
- Good olive oil (I used a blood orange infused olive oil because I had it)
- Flaky salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- A grill or cast iron pan
- A small but deep pot and a splatter guard (or a lid larger than the pot that you’ll use as a shield) *Do not fry the basil if you don’t have a lid or splatter guard, it’s not worth the oil burns*
- A plate lined with paper towels
Char the corn. It needs to cool completely before going into the salad, so do this early on. There are two ways to do this. 1st way: Shuck the corn (remove the husk and try to get rid of all those stringy bits). Grill the corn on very high heat, turning when the sides are brown or black–color is good. Let cool. Cut kernels off the cob, trying to get some nice, large clusters. 2nd way: Shuck the corn and cut the kernels off the cob, trying to get some nice, large clusters. Heat up a cast iron pan (or a very heavy pot) over very high heat. Add just a touch of oil and toast the kernels, stirring infrequently, until nicely charred. Let cool.
Slice the shallot into thin rings and let them soak in cold water. Soaking shallots isn’t the most necessary step, but it takes off any sharp bite that the onions may have. Definitely soak red onions if you’re using them instead of shallots.
Fry the basil! I thought this was a fun touch-it adds a good textural crunch and is a little special. You know how basil actually has a pretty strong flavor? Frying the basil takes away a lot of that flavor. You can choose to fry all of it or even just half. To fry the basil: Place a few layers of paper towels on a plate and set aside. Heat your neutral oil over medium heat in a small but deep pot, and find a lid that is larger than the pot (or use a splatter guard). YOU NEED A LID OR A SPLATTER GUARD. DO NOT try to do this without one. When your oil reaches about 350°F (you can see ripples in the oil), take your basil in one hand and the lid/splatter guard in the other hand. Drop the basil in and IMMEDIATELY shield yourself from the splattering in the pot. Don’t put the lid all the way down (you can angle the opening away from you), because then steam will accumulate, condense, and water will drip back down into your hot oil…bad news. There is so much water in the basil that you MUST cover the pot because the oil WILL splatter. Oil burns hurt. like. hell. Anyway. The popping will slow down significantly (but won’t stop fully) and that’s when you can use a slotted spoon/spatula/I couldn’t find those so I used salad tongs…to remove the basil and let it drain on the paper towels. Season with salt while it’s still hot.
Reduce the balsamic: pour the balsamic vinegar into a pan or pot over medium/medium low heat. Add the honey and orange juice and let simmer, stirring occasionally. After about 5 minutes the mixture will thicken but will still be quite pourable and you’ll be like, “this needs to reduce more,” but it doesn’t. Remove from heat and let cool. This will thicken upon cooling, so don’t reduce it tooooo much (but if it ends up being too thick, it’s okay. Just add a splash of balsamic vinegar and whisk!)
Assemble the salad. No more than an hour before you’re going to eat, you can assemble the salad. If you need to assemble this earlier, toss the avocado in lemon juice so it doesn’t brown and save the balsamic reduction for just before serving.
Slice the large heirloom tomatoes about 1 cm thick and arrange on a platter, slightly overlapping to give some height. (If you’re using mozzarella instead of burrata, add slices of mozzarella between the tomatoes). Halve the smaller tomatoes and arrange on top of the sliced tomatoes. Now is the time where we think very artistically. Slice the avocado, fan out 2-4 pieces, and arrange on top of tomatoes. Add the charred corn in sections so that the yellow of the corn doesn’t overpower the other colors. Place the shallots, a few at once, in sections around the platter. Slice the strawberries, group a few slices together, and arrange in areas around the platter. Add groups of 5-7 blueberries where you think there is a need for a dark pop of color. Place the burrata on top of the platter and admire how beautiful it is. Adorn the top of the salad with the fried basil. The moment before serving: drizzle the salad with olive oil (only about a tablespoon in total, don’t go crazy). Use a fork to drizzle the balsamic reduction on top–you may not need all of it. Sprinkle with flaky salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Take a picture before the salad gets demolished by your loved ones. Enjoy the compliments. Relish in the satisfaction that you’ve made the best salad anybody has ever eaten.