Caprese: a perfect food | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Caprese: a perfect food

Please, please, PLEASE do not use balsamic vinegar.

There are very few perfect foods in the world. I define a perfect food as a dish with minimal ingredients or one ingredient (for example, peaches), that requires little preparation to achieve maximum effect. Caprese is most certainly one of them. 

Because of our growing season, excellent caprese in Pennsylvania is a summer-time only dish. It also requires using excellent ingredients. Treat yourself to some nice cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil from a place where you can sample before you buy. Take in the smells and jewel tones of heirloom tomatoes at a local farmers’ market, before burying your face in a bunch of basil you just bought. Beyond a little slicing, there isn’t much else a cook can do to improve upon what they are already holding in their hands. My only words of warning are: Please, please, PLEASE do not use balsamic vinegar. 


  • 2 or 3 heirloom tomatoes (I like Cherokee Purples and Brandywines), cut into ¼-inch slices
  • 8 oz. good-quality, fresh mozzarella, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
  • 1 bunch sweet Italian basil, leaves picked off the stem
  • Good quality olive oil (head to the Strip, so many options!)
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste


Go to your local farmers’ market. There’s one every day, somewhere in the city. Select your tomatoes from one of the vendors. If you don’t know much about tomatoes, most farmers are more than happy to tell you about the different varieties and make suggestions. This dish can be a fun way to try new tomatoes. Basil, and hopefully mozzarella, should also be available at the market, the fresher the better. At home, rinse the produce and select a large plate or platter. Slice the tomatoes into slices and lay on the plate. Slice the mozzarella. Pluck basil leaves from the stem. On top of each tomato slice, layer basil and then mozzarella. Top with a drizzle of olive olive, plus a pinch of salt and cracked pepper. Serves 4 to 6 people.

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