Flash in the Pan

Take it caprese

Recipe: Caprese salad pasta


Caprese salad is a simple dish. Yet the mere combination of tomato, basil and mozzarella cheese, dusted with salt and slathered in olive oil, accomplishes so much. Dressed in the colors of the Italian flag, Caprese exemplifies the fresh, ingredient-centric ethos of Italian cuisine. Like a margherita pizza without the crust and heat, Caprese is the perfect way to enjoy the downslope of summer.

My tomato-hating son demands Caprese on the daily when tomatoes and basil are in season. The boys and their posse eat Caprese the way they eat the on-sale mangoes I sometimes bring home. They make Caprese when hosting friends and throwing parties, and they throw one together on the way out the door like grabbing a granola bar.

As with any recipe of great cultural significance, there will be static between purists and innovators. I generally have tremendous respect and reverence for the deep history and traditions that form the foundation of many time-honed recipes. But I’m ready to be flexible to keep with the season and region.

With today’s newfangled heirloom tomatoes, for example, you often need to add more acid since the tomatoes alone don’t have the pH levels to stand up to the cheese and olive oil. A few drops of balsamic vinegar is the first step, but if it still needs more tang, you can switch to a different acid such as white balsamic vinegar, which, for trademark reasons, is often labeled “white Italian vinegar” or even “white Italian condiment.”

If you want to turn your Caprese game up a notch further, the next level up would be a homemade reduction of red or white balsamic. Simply heat the balsamic and slowly reduce the quantity by half. It becomes thick and syrupy and sticks to the tomatoes, basil and cheese. Aside from balsamic, any red- or white-wine vinegar would work. And, as with any salad, don’t skimp on the salt or use cheap oil.

Finally, you must decide if you should stack the components into towers or toss them like salad.

If you choose to make a tower, the slice of cheese belongs at the foundation, with a tomato ceiling and the basil tucked in between. The cheese will absorb the dressing from the plate and won’t collapse like the tomato might. I know, you want to put the basil on top because it’s more colorful. But those leaves will deflect the salt, oil and vinegar from the tomato, shielding it from its much-needed dressing. So, tuck the basil under the tomato. Then sprinkle your salt, drizzle the olive oil and chase with a few drops of acid.

If you prefer to serve Caprese as a salad, I recommend cubing both the tomatoes and cheese. All those cut surfaces do a great job of holding the vinaigrette that’s created when the salt pulls the juice from the tomatoes. One thing that’s fun about the salad option is you can toss the whole business into a pot of hot pasta.

If you played your cards right last spring, you can’t run out of tomatoes or basil during these luxurious late-summer days, and mozzarella cheese, purchased in sealed, placenta-like bags of water, becomes the limiting factor.

So, what if you run out of mozzarella? You have to replace it with something, presumably cheese. But maybe don’t call it Caprese. Trust me on that one. You will get called out by the self-appointed experts, who might want to avert their eyes and stop reading at this point.

Say, for the sake of argument, you substitute feta for a Greco-Roman salad that is most definitely not Caprese. Why stop there? Add chunks of cucumber. Swap the basil for oregano. Add mint. Add onion or garlic. Skip the balsamic and lean on the citrus. Make the formula work for you.

Perhaps replace the mozzarella with a fine Spanish Manchego and a drizzle of red-wine vinegar. You can serve it atop a crusted fragment of bread and wash it down with a blended red.


Caprese salad pasta

This recipe is actually three in one: how to make Caprese, how to make pasta and how to add Caprese to pasta.



  1. 1 pound of tomatoes, cut into cubes
  2. ½ pound of fresh mozzarella, cut
  3. into cubes
  4. 1 bunch of basil, leaves pulled off
  5. ½ teaspoon salt
  6. ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  7. 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  8. 1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice



  • 1 strip of fine bacon, cut crosswise
  • into strips
  • 1 pound pasta noodles
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine the salad ingredients in a medium-size bowl. Taste. Adjust salt and acid. Set aside.

Bring 3 gallons of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta. Cook the amount of time specified on the package, plus a minute. Drain the noodles and, while still piping hot, stir in the garlic, cheese, bacon and olive oil. When fully tossed, add the Caprese and serve.


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