By Pamela Chan, Contributor
Do you ever feel a sense of panic when someone invites you to bring a dish for a potluck dinner or picnic? Do feel like you lack a signature dish or you simply lack the time and energy required to make something fabulous?
When you’re busy looking after your family and attending to work, cooking can sometimes feel like a source of stress. Complicating matters is your awareness that your host is putting a lot of effort into hosting an event. What’s the solution?
Whenever I feel like I want to bring a salad, I inevitably add way to many ingredients and end up with a Tried Too Hard result. A better alternative, I’ve found, is make a version of a caprese salad.
During my second visit to Italy – which was more like my first – I started off my trip staying with a former colleague and friend who was living in Milan. After we arrived in her lovely, spacious flat, we went to the kitchen and she took a caprese salad out of the fridge. “I eat this almost every day. It’s a popular salad here and is so easy to make”, she said. She wasn’t kidding. The home-style recipe she used consisted of hacking up a tomato, adding some pieces of buffalo mozzarella cheese (plentiful and affordable there); drizzling on some olive oil; adding a dash of salt; and, ripping up some basil for the finishing touch. You might have seen caprese salads gussied up in restaurants but this is, effectively, how they are made.
Here’s what you can do to make your own quick, easy and delicious take on a caprese salad.
Ingredients and Method
Choose some good quality tomatoes. How many you choose depends on how large you want your salad to be. You will have equal amounts of tomatoes and cucumbers in the salad. (The tomatoes shown in the photograph above are heirloom tomatoes that were grown at Colony Farm and gifted to us by a gardener we met there recently. She invited my children to pick some tomatoes from her vines. Outside of gardening season, I like to use roma tomatoes. Avoid soulless varieties such as hothouse tomatoes.)
Add in some sliced cucumbers. Use a regular cucumber, not an English cucumber. (The cucumbers shown here were grown in our garden.)
Add in buffalo mozarella if you can afford to do so. You want to add enough cheese so that it’s plentiful in your salad and guests will have a good chance of getting a fair amount of cheese in their serving. (Buffalo mozarella is pretty pricey here in British Columbia. A good alternative is bocconcini cheese. President’s Choice makes an affordable product that keeps well in its plastic container. Bocconcini is a bit firmer than buffalo mozarella. If you’re really keen you can actually make the latter. But that would go against our easy and time saving plan here, wouldn’t it?)
Drizzle the salad with good quality olive oil. President’s Choice makes an almost $10 bottle of EVOO olive oil that has won international awards. (You can guess where I shop.) It’s a good option for salads.
Add in chopped parsley. The pieces should be neither big not small. You don’t want your guests eating large chunks of parsley. On the other hand you don’t fine pieces being dispersed throughout the salad. (The parsley shown here was grown in our garden.)
Add in chopped fresh basil. You can buy this at the store or grow your own. (We grew ours in our garden.) You will want to use at least 5 leaves. You can either rip them or chop them. I prefer to chop them so I can maximize how far the flavour spreads throughout the salad.
Sprinkle with salad and a little bit of fresh pepper. The amount you use is according to taste.
Optional – add fresh dill.
Toss gently and serve.
* I mention which produce we grew in our garden as a way of saying that you can eat a whole salad (save for the cheese) based on what you grew in the garden.
This salad doesn’t take long to prep and is a hit with diners. If you’re worried about time constraints or preparing a dish that will go over well, jump on the chance to bring a salad. It’s easy to prepare and transport, and won’t leave you worried that it might not turn out right.