Caprese Salad

caprese salad
caprese salad

By Grace Dickinson, Temple University

Ever wonder why store-bought tomatoes resemble bland cardboard, while homegrown or market-purchased tomatoes have a taste fit for a Mediterranean prince? Nothing compares to the flavor that comes from a vine-ripened tomato, and there are various reasons for this.

For one, commercial growers breed tomatoes fit for durability. This means that often their goal is not to yield the tastiest tomatoes, but rather ones that scarcely bruise. Additionally, those growers aren’t waiting for the tomatoes to turn perfectly, sun-kissed red on the vine like a home grower would. Instead, they pick their tomatoes rather unripe at a point where the tomato is not nearly the cherry color you’d desire on your plate. This is done for shipping reasons, allowing time for the tomatoes to ripen during the transportation process while minimizing blemishes. However, as a result, the sweetness and intense flavor that characterize a tomato is lost, leaving you with what some would claim is an entirely different fruit.

Luckily, it’s currently tomato season, so finding a true, vine-ripened tomato shouldn’t be too difficult. Once you’ve got yourself a few of those, little else needs to be done in order to turn the fruit into a plate full of antioxidant deliciousness. Caprese salads are a classic way to plate up the red rounds, requiring just a handful of ingredients to make.

A touch of olive oil draws out the sweetness of the fruit, while basil freshens the whole dish up. Additionally, the olive oil acts to help your body more easily absorb the abundance of antioxidants naturally found in tomatoes. Studies have proven that carotenoids, the antioxidant responsible for giving tomatoes their signature color, are best absorbed when paired with a fat, such as olive oil.

Finally, mozzarella is added for a touch of richness that won’t draw away from the fresh flavor. If you have a thick balsamic reduction on hand, go ahead and drizzle it on. This, alongside the olive oil, will continue to play up the sweetness of the tomatoes.

Caprese Salad
(Serves 4)

-2 large, ripe tomatoes
-8 oz. mozzarella cheese, in ball form
-12-18 fresh basil leaves
-Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
-Fresh ground salt and pepper, to taste
-Balsamic reduction (optional)

Cut tomatoes and mozzarella into ¼-inch thick slices. Lay tomatoes on a serving platter. Drizzle with olive oil. Layer with mozzarella and add a basil leaf on top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. If using, lightly drizzle with balsamic reduction.