They say you should never mess with a good thing, but when it comes to what might as well be the National Appetizer of Italy (that’s not actually a thing, but we’re making it one!)—Caprese salad—a little creativity can actually make it even better. That’s because the ingredients are so simplistically, deliciously pure that they continue to authentically shine with the addition of a few extra (equally simple) accouterments. Satisfy your next Caprese craving with one of these mouthwatering twists.
Caprese Salad Deluxe
Adding surprising ingredients to a Caprese salad in its classic form (seasonal tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, extra virgin olive oil, and a sprinkle of sea salt) is an easy way to elevate the dish from elegantly simple to simply elegant. For David Burke, renowned chef and restaurateur—who just opened his newest restaurant, Woodpecker, in New York City—that means adding flavors that stay within the boot-shaped borders of Italy. “I like something that gives crunch, something effervescent, and a little spice, too,” he says. “Crushed pistachios or pine nuts, lemon or orange zest, and a little black pepper or chili flakes would be very nice.”
Caprese salad technically already exists in pizza form (it’s called a margherita), but you can add some wow-power by introducing decadent burrata to the mix—trust us, your taste buds and dinner guests will both be seriously impressed. Macchina in New York City is Insta-famous for its version of the dish, so we asked Sean Rawlinson, culinary director and partner at Macchina, to tell us how its made. Top your dough with a tomato sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes, then add fresh mozzarella (or mozzarella curd, if you can find it), basil, and a ball of burrata nestled right in the middle. Then comes the best part. Burrata is a solid shell of fresh buffalo mozzarella that’s stuffed with stracciatella (unpulled mozzarella) and cream, which oozes out as soon as you cut into it—before digging in, spread the rich, gooey cheese across every slice.
What happens when you marry decadently creamy risotto with bright and fresh Caprese salad? Magic, that’s what. There are two schools of Caprese risotto thought, says Lidia Bastianich, renowned chef, award-winning public television host, bestselling cookbook author, and restaurateur. You can stir traditional Caprese salad ingredients into a finished onion-based risotto. Or, you can serve the risotto plain and top it with those Caprese ingredients just before serving. Both sound equally delicious to us!
Piling the salad ingredients on a poppable vessel is a quick and easy appetizer or snack. Choose something sturdy and crunchy, like toasted baguette slices, Triscuit crackers, or pretzel crisps.
Tuck the salad ingredients between your favorite bread, then bite into it cold or grilled like a panini. We recommend crusty baguette, flavorful focaccia, hearty ciabatta, or good ol’ Italian.
Almost Caprese Salad
Keep it simply surprising with this innovative iteration that’s perfect for dinner or dessert. “For a modern twist, I like to replace tomatoes with grilled summer fruit like white peaches, which are in season now,” says Donatella Arpaia, celebrity chef and partner at Prova Pizzabar in New York City.
Here’s a whimsical idea that lends itself to a pretty and fun presentation, courtesy of Burke. “Cook tomatoes down, sort of like a ratatouille. Then layer with ricotta cheese instead of mozzarella,” he says. We suggest devouring it with a hunk of fresh Italian bread.
Whether you serve this dish hot or cold, you’re sure to be going back for seconds. “Cook the pasta, drain, and toss with extra virgin olive oil. Then throw in the Caprese ingredients and mix, or just set them on top of the pasta and serve. You can also substitute wild arugula instead of the basil, if you want,” says Bastianich.
Make a chilled tomato soup and top with shreds of fresh mozzarella, strips of basil, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. For a little extra kick, add some red pepper flakes or tiny slivers of fresh chili pepper.
Fancy up finger food by stacking toothpicks or short skewers with grape tomatoes, mini fresh mozzarella balls, and basil leaves. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, then munch away. Or, use it as a tasty and edible garnish on a Bloddy Mary. “It’s a great way to wash down a meal and enjoy a snack at the same time,” says Rawlinson.
Burke is a creative culinary genius, known for his out-of-the-box flavor mash-ups and presentations (if you haven’t had his clothesline bacon that’s blow-torched on the spot, head to Woodpecker right now), so it’s no surprise that this idea is, well, pretty surprising! “I love grapes with tomatoes. Deep fry red grapes—wet them, roll in flour, egg, and corn flake crumbs, then fry. They’re great as croutons and a nice surprise,” he says. “You can do the same thing with black olives, just stuff them with pesto, first, then fry.” Toss with the rest of the Caprese ingredients and consider topping with some bits of crispy prosciutto for some extra salty goodness.
If that sounds too ambitious, Burke suggests mixing red and yellow grape tomatoes with watermelon cubes or melon balls (cantaloupe or honeydew) for a refreshing twist.
Related Video: How to Make Caprese Mac and Cheese
Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.