“I smell basil,” said a friend and stopped mid-step to look around. He had barely stepped foot into our patio where a bodacious pot of basil was happily growing at a quick pace thanks to Santa Fe’s consummate temperatures.
I turned to look at my friend and smiled to acknowledge at his acute sense of smell. We laughed together and agreed there is something intoxicating about the heady scent of basil in the heat of the summer that stops you in your tracks.
The Sweet Smell of Basil
The distinctive smell of basil transports me back to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, where we lived for many years. We celebrated the perennial production of this beloved herb with our top-selling Mexican-style Caprese salad on our restaurant’s menu. It was such a popular salad, we never even considered tweaking it or removing it from the menu. Otherwise, there would be hell to pay–especially by me, as this was also my favorite salad.
Thick slices of juicy, ripe tomatoes drizzled with a perfectly balanced basil vinaigrette nestled around a heaping mound of stringy Oaxacan cheese. This is one of the most delicious and refreshing salads you will ever eat. The bright green color of the vinaigrette plays beautifully with the red tomatoes and white cheese paying homage to the colors of both the Mexican and the Italian flag.
How to Transform a Salad into a Meal
As much as I love this salad, it’s not a meal. However, add a few handfuls of crispy Romaine or Little Gem lettuce and it magically becomes a meal that is foolproof for a hot, summer night when nothing but a salad will suffice.
Instead of the typical Mexican Oaxacan cheese, I replaced it with pearls of fluffy mozzarella and sweet cherub or cherry tomatoes. The goal is to get a little cheese, tomato and crunchy lettuce in every bite.
Dressed with the sensational basil vinaigrette that makes this salad supreme, lunch or dinner is served. Add grilled meat, chicken or shrimp and this salad instantly becomes a supreme summer staple you will crave long after your bountiful basil plant has produced its final leaves.
Tossed Caprese Salad with Basil Vinaigrette
Caprese salads are an ideal summer salad, but sometimes, they are just that. A salad and not a meal. Tossing the tomatoes and mozzarella with lots of crisp and crunch lettuce makes this a meal and the basil vinaigrette will knock your socks off. Here's to bodacious basil plants and a way to celebrate all that is summer--ripe tomatoes and herbaceous basil.
For the salad
- 2 heads Romaine hearts chopped
- 20-30 cherry or cherub tomatoes washed, dried and cut in half or not
- 20-30 mozzarella pearls drained
- 1/3 cup basil vinaigrette see recipe below
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper
- Sprig of fresh basil for plating
- 1 shallot peeled and root and end removed
- 1 heaping cup fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 2/3 scant cup extra virgin olive oil
To make the salad
In a big bowl, add the chopped Romaine hearts, tomatoes and mozzarella.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat.
Drizzle with 1/4 cup of the basil vinaigrette, toss well and serve, adding a touch more vinaigrette if desired. When plating, give each serving a bit more dressing for added color and flavor. Garnish with a sprig of basil and serve.
To make the basil vinaigrette
Place everything but the olive oil in a blender or food processor. Pulse a few times to combine, using a spatula to scrape the sides and push everything together.
Remove the cap of the blender or the covering tube of the food processor and start the machine, slowly pouring the oil as the blender or food processor are running. If using a blender, place your hand over the lid so it won't splatter.
When the oil is incorporated and the basil and shallot are pureed, turn the machine off and scrape the sides again. Cover and puree for another 1 minute or so.
Pour bright green vinaigrette in a glass jar and, if not using immediately, store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When using the leftover dressing, let the dressing come to room temperature and sit for about 5 minutes before serving. Shake well and use liberally. Preferably with sliced tomatoes and your favorite cheese.