Ciliegine in Italian means cherry.
At the grocers there is a type of mozzarella called Ciliegine; round soft fresh mozzarella balls packed in water or oil, a little larger than cherry tomatoes.
Caprese got its name from the Isle of Capri, off the Amalfi Coast and Naples, Italy.
The colors of the salad—red-tomatoes, white-mozzarella cheese, and green-basil, are symbolic of the Italian flag.
My first memory of Caprese salad was at my Grandma’s cottage. She called it tomato-basil salad. As if the cheese was an afterthought or maybe mozzarella cheese wasn’t available from the local farmers. The bulbous ripe tomatoes and piquant, aromatic basil were abundant, picked from her garden.
The mozzarella usually arrived with us from Chicago, crammed in a spaghetti pot filled with ice and cheeses stashed on the floor of the back seat of our car.
Grandma would make a Caprese platter while we ran in-and-out to the swing and slam of the screen door, already in our bathing suits headed for the pier and our cousins.
“A little something.” To go with her homemade bread while the adults would “talk”—laugh, yell, relax, and make dinner.
She started with washed basil leaves from her garden, then placed juicy sliced tomatoes gently on top, next the soft white fresh mozzarella slices, thick as the tomato slices, and topped the mozzarella with a large fresh basil leaf. The vivid colors with only a half-moon showing—rotate, circle the platter. At the table she lightly dressed the salad with swirls of yellow-green olive oil—bought in shiny-silver gallon cans stenciled with a beautiful gold and black design around the sides, a carrying-handle and small capped lid on top—a splash of white balsamic vinegar, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.
Because of the availability and taste of cherry tomatoes and the multicolored heirloom cherry tomatoes at the Green City Farmer’s Market; I make this salad in miniature.
Bite size works for the kids too.
My neighbor Laura makes Caprese as an Hors-d’oeuvre.
Laura uses the marinated fresh mozzarella balls, prepared in oil with finely chopped parsley, basil, red pepper, garlic, and oregano. She slices the marinated mozzarella in half, and with an extra long toothpick, threads the basil leaf coated with vinegar and oil, marinated mozzarella, a cherry tomato, and the end of the basil leaf. The red pepper in the marinade gives it an extra holiday touch.
Beautiful and delicious.
To make a Quick and Easy Caprese:
Use tomatoes fresh from the garden, especially if you have cheery-cherry tomato plants and grow your own basil. Farmer’s Market tomatoes are delicious too.
Slice the cherry tomatoes in half, slice the Ciliegine (mozzarella balls) in half, toss in a bowl with a vinaigrette of extra-virgin olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, rolled and torn basil leaves, sprinkle with Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.