Tomato, Mozzarella & Basil Salad  Recipe
Tomato, Mozzarella & Basil Salad

By Wolfgang Puck

Summer's Favorite Tomato Salad; Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Salad Recipe by Wolfgang Puck

In cooking, as in life, sometimes the simplest things can be the hardest to get absolutely right. For proof, look no further than one of the most popular appetizers in restaurants everywhere at this time of year: Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Salad.

At first glance, that doesn't sound hard to put together: Slice up tomatoes and mozzarella, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, season to taste with salt and pepper, garnish with fresh basil, and serve.

But how you select each main ingredient can impact the final results. Make the wrong choices, and you might wonder why everyone raves about the salad. Do it the right way, and everyone you serve it to will say you're the best cook ever.

Let's start with the tomatoes. I only serve this salad during the height of summer, when sun-ripened tomatoes are at their peak of sweet, juicy flavor, reminding you why botanists classify them as a fruit. Look for great tomatoes right now at farmers' markets, where you can often choose from a wide range of heirloom varieties, and many growers will let you sample them before buying. One of the best choices, though, is a meaty summer "beefsteak" tomato, deep red and robustly flavored. Whatever you select, when you get the tomatoes home, leave them on the counter and use them within a day or two, depending on how ripe they are; refrigeration will rob them of their flavor.

Then there's the cheese. The best mozzarella is traditionally made in Italy from the rich milk of water buffalo, though cow's milk mozzarella is also good. Either way, look for fresh mozzarella, available in the deli sections of well-stocked supermarkets and in some Italian delis; you'll recognize the fresh cheese because it's still floating in watery whey. Fresh mozzarella has a milder, creamier flavor and a much more delicate texture than rubbery vacuum-packed mozzarella. Make your salad with fresh mozzarella and it can be sublime; with the other kind, it's likely to be unremarkable.

Fortunately, fresh basil leaves are now widely available in both food stores and farmers' markets. And look for good extra-virgin olive oil, with a fruity flavor and aroma that will enhance the results; and aged balsamic vinegar, with a complex sweet-sour flavor and almost syrupy consistency.

Finally, let me add a simple hint about putting the salad together. Many people slice the ingredients and arrange them on a plate or platter before seasoning and dressing them. Instead, sprinkle each slice of tomato with a little salt and pepper before overlapping them with the cheese; that way, every bite will be perfectly seasoned.

Add some grilled sourdough bread, and you have an ideal appetizer or, in larger quantities, a perfect summertime lunch

Tomato, Mozzarella & Basil Salad Recipe

Serves 4

Tomato, Mozzarella & Basil Ingredients

12 fresh basil leaves

4 medium-sized vine-ripened tomatoes

1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Tomato, Mozzarella & Basil Salad Recipe Preparation

First, cut the basil leaves into a julienne of thin ribbons. To do this, neatly stack several leaves on top of each other at one time. Then, starting at one long edge of the stack of leaves, roll them up tightly into a compact cigar shape. Holding the roll steady with one hand, use a small, sharp knife to cut the roll crosswise into slices about 1/8 inch thick. With your fingertips, gently fluff up the slices to unfurl them into tiny ribbons. Place the basil julienne in a small bowl and set aside.

With the tip of the knife, cut out the core of each tomato and cut a thin slice off its opposite flower end. Then, parallel to the stem and flower ends, cut the tomato horizontally into neat slices about 1/4 inch thick. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer on a clean work surface or on a platter or plate.

Drain the mozzarella cheese of any excess water and pat it dry with paper towels. Cut the mozzarella into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Set the slices aside.

Lightly but evenly sprinkle the top sides of all the tomato slices with the sea salt and black pepper.

Arrange the tomato and cheese slices on a platter or on individual serving plates in an attractive overlapping pattern. Drizzle them evenly all over with the olive oil and then with the balsamic vinegar. Scatter the basil julienne over the arrangement. Serve immediately.

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