Coming to you live with a jazzed up version of my favourite salad – the Caprese salad. It’s a classic, an easy weeknight meal and a transitional salad for changing of seasons. It is also my go-to salad for when I realise at the eleventh hour that I have drastically under-catered for a dinner party. While there is this opportunity for a smooth as sandpaper transition to linking my own recipes, here are some other dinner party ideas. How about a vegan, FODMAP friendly lasagne? Because everybody loves lasagne. Alternatively, what about a gluten free and vegan Caprese galette? Alternatively, how about I shut up and we get into the salad at hand? Yeah cool.
The humble caprese salad generally consists of tomato, basil and mozzarella, drizzled with olive oil and topped with some flaky salt. It is on basically every menu in Italy, and with good reason. It is bloody good. If you’re a salad short at a dinner party, the caprese has your back. I have yet to meet anyone (alien tomato haters excepted) who doesn’t load up on caprese. It is a dinner party slum dunk.
So why am I writing up such a simple salad? Partly because I spent my entire afternoon photographing radicchio and I need something to show for it. Partly because I know that past me would appreciate some last minute salad ideas for panic shopping pre-guests arriving. Partly because I will take any excuse to make and eat caprese.
WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT THIS CAPRESE SALAD?
Firstly, this salad uses radicchio and toasted pine nuts, where others do not. Secondly, I’ve enlisted the help of burrata, a mozzarella relative with a creamy, cream filled centre. It adds drama, it adds pizzazz, it adds a wow factor, and most importantly, it adds cream.
The single most important factor that will determine the true wow factor, however, is good produce. I honestly used to scoff as I would watch Ottolenghi on TV, extolling the virtues of good quality olive oil and produce. Why would I buy that, I reasoned, when I can get Coles brand for $20 less, I haughtily chuckled? As with everything ever, however, Otto was right.
To ensure the true success of this salad, you have to cough up a little extra, if you can. Buy some really good quality olive oil, even if you use it only for special occasions. Head to a farmers market and buy the tomatoes there. Ideally, don’t buy tomatoes in the dead of winter – they are a summer fruit and are best enjoyed as such. I personally can vouch for the fact that farmer’s market basil is infinitely more heavenly than supermarket basil. As an added bonus, it’s not even wrapped in plastic!
There are a few options for dressing this salad, all of which are measured by taste. It’s up to you how much or how little you’d like to add, or if you want to add them at all. Olive oil and flaky salt are the only compulsory ingredients. After that, you have the options of:
- Substituting part of the olive oil with truffle oil. Truffle oil can be controversial, but if you have the right sort of friends (people that love truffle oil) then I can guarantee the addition will be a hit.
- A drizzle of a really good quality balsamic vinegar. It brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes, cuts through the burrata, and amplifies the radicchio.
- A drizzle of local, good quality honey. A touch of sweetness and decadence to finish is my personal brand.
As I have mentioned, a good quality olive oil is a must. If you’re using only olive oil and salt, this is particularly important. You can use all of the above dressings, tasting as you go. They are a match made in heaven, to be frank.
Tomato, burrata and basil Caprese salad with radicchio, toasted pine nuts, honey and truffle oil.
For the salad:
- 500g good quality tomatoes (I like to use a combination of cherry and large ones)
- 1-2 balls of good quality burrata
- 1 bunch fragrant basil
- 1 large handful radicchio leaves, torn
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, freshly toasted
To dress the salad:
- good quality olive oil, to taste
- good quality local honey, to taste
- good quality truffle oil, to taste
- good quality balsamic vinegar, to taste
- good quality flaky sea salt, to taste
- Chop the tomatoes in a way that suits you. I like to have different shapes and sizes for texture and visual interest, but make sure they are mostly bite sized.
- Add all the ingredients for the salad (except the burrata and half of the pine nuts) to a large mixing bowl. Starting with the olive or truffle (or both) oil, add just enough to nicely coat and flavour the salad. Follow with the flaky sea salt, and then the honey and balsamic. Note that you can use whatever suits you - beyond olive oil and salt, you can pick and choose. See the introduction if you need a smidge more info.
- Transfer the salad to a serving plate, and finish with the remaining pine nuts, any leftover basil leaves, and potentially a crack of pepper. Place the burrata ball (or balls) where you see fit, and gently slice them down the middle as you are serving the salad. Maximum drama with minimum fuss.