This weekend I am putting together the first Caprese salad of summer, if I can get good-enough ingredients at the farmers’ market tomorrow. You need very ripe and juicy tomatoes, plenty of flavour. Fresh basil leaves, torn. And fresh, dripping buffalo-milk mozzarella. If you can’t get those three, make something else instead. I have made a passable Caprese with rocket (arugula) leaves but I can imagine the foodie isle of Capri recoiling in shock, rearing out of the waves like an outraged Aphrodite. Basil and tomato go together sublimely for long summer luncheons al fresco.
They do best when grown together too: I grow cherry tomatoes with basil interplanted in a large pot andthey go into some kind of symbiotic overdrive and produce fruit and basil foliage like crazy. If you’re new to gardening remember never to plant rue anywhere near basil. Rue is a very strange witchy herb that can kill a small green bush of basil before you have time to say abracadabra. Most of the basil varieties are quite tough and will keep going into the autumn. The quintessential fragrance of summer for me is a handful of just-picked basil from the garden, spicy and with that elusive hint of nutmeg and clove.
On a large attractive round or oval platter arrange circles of tomato and mozzarella slices and torn basil leaves, alternating and overlapping them. Drizzle with olive oil. Season salad with salt and pepper. This is done right at the end and only takes about five or six minutes. Some people like a small splash of balsamic vinegar but it isn’t necessary.
Serves four to six fairly greedy people. I serve this as a side dish with grilled lamb or spatchcocked chicken, but it also works well with a deep dish of oven-roast vegetables.