This is the famous summery Italian salad that is known in its homeland as Insalata Caprese. It is wickedly simple to prepare, as it only contains three main ingredients, three amazingly compatible ingredients. Perfectly ripe tomatoes, pungently fresh basil and creamy bocconcini cheese.
When you think about perfect partners in the kitchen, quite a few spring to mind. Fish and chips, beef and horseradish, lamb and rosemary, but none are as enduring and perfect in subtle simplicity as tomato and basil. Add the simple fresh taste of bocconcini and it is no wonder that the Italians have yet another bona fide classic recipe on their hands.
Bocconcini cheese is a fresh, cooked and stretched curd cheese, a little similar to mozzarella. The name refers in Italian to a mouthful. It is traditionally made, just like mozzarella, from buffalo milk. These days however, most versions for sale with have cow's milk as the base ingredient. They are small milky spheres, resembling the cue ball from a pool table. They packed for sale in the whey left over from production.
If you have trouble finding bocconcini, it is time to start substituting. Try mozzarella, feta, haloumi or goats cheese. Only make this salad when the key ingredients are at their peak. Tomatoes and basil are at their peak in mid to late summer.
The original version of insalata caprese calls simply for torn leaves of fresh basil, but in my version I decide to funk it up a little by using basil oil instead. Either way, it is simple and delicious
Slice both the bocconcini and tomato into 6-7 discs each. If you are using fresh basil, tear the leaves into small sections. On a large serving plate, alternately layer the tomato and cheese in an attractive circular fashion. Toss the salad in a little oil. Drizzle the tomato and cheese with the basil oil, or simply scatter with the basil leaves. Season with salt and pepper, top with the salad and drizzle over the remaining oil to give it a nice glossy appearance. Serve immediately.