When I went to Capri in April of 2008, I trekked up the steep hills to a trattoria for lunch after a morning of taking in the vistas. I was so excited to have a Caprese Salad in the birthplace of Caprese Salads. Imagine my disappointment when the waiter brought us green, far from ripe tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. Then it hit me. The seasons. Seasonal eating was such a novel concept to me as an American – everything’s available all year round, and the whole conscious foodie thing hadn’t really come into full swing at that time. So, what I had imagined was a plate of luscious, bursting at the seams red tomatoes with buttery mozzarella and verdant basil. What I got was lackluster citrus with less than memorable accompaniments. If I had only come in the summer!Fast forward a few years and now I know that even the most lame tomatoes can be made dynamite by a long, sweet roast in the oven. It’s precisely what’s required of the tomatoes I’ve seen so far this season. Mild summer temperatures means mediocre sweetness and acidity (I think). So I topped regular grocery store tomatoes with sugar, salt, black pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They reach a flavor complexity that rivals the most pungent pickles. Sweet, tangy and savory, it balances the mild, creamy addition of burrata. Burrata, if you’ve never had it, is cream filled mozzarella. On top of pizza, it makes for the creamiest cheese topping. I wanted to try it on this salad, but freaked out once I tried picking it up from its solution and found it to be so soft, it immediately started running all over the board. And then when you cut into it, it’s even more of a mess! I grabbed a bunch of paper towels and started wiping up the mess and I thought this dish was doomed for sure. But when I started picking up the squares (or blobs) I had cut from the ball of burrata, I appreciated the rustic appearance. It certainly wouldn’t work with raw slices of tomatoes. The whole aesthetic of the traditional Caprese Salad relies on the symmetry of the tomatoes and mozzarella. But with the warped form of the tomatoes from the heat of the oven, it worked well. I didn’t drizzle additional olive oil atop since I felt the burrata had plenty fat content. A sprinkling of cracked pepper and hand torn basil was the perfect adornment. Hopefully your basil is fresh and not the last scraps you could salvage from your (read: my) week-old bunch.
- 3-4 beefsteak tomatoes, depending on the size (I used 3 in the pictures above)
- 1-2 tsps sugar
- 3-4 tbsps olive oil
- 2 tbsps balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper
- 1 8 oz ball of burrata
- 4 to 6 basil leaves, torn
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Slice 2 tomatoes between 1/4 and 1/2 inch in thickness (see pictures). Arrange slices on baking sheet lined with parchment and season liberally with salt and pepper (about 3/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper). Lightly sprinkle tops with 1 tsp sugar, 2 tbsps olive oil and 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar*. Use a pastry brush or your hands to smooth out all the seasonings. Bake in preheated oven for 40-45 minutes.
- Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before removing to serving platter. Repeat Step 2 with fresh parchment paper and second batch of tomato(es).
- Arrange tomatoes on platter, overlapping them slightly. Remove burrata from solution and place on cutting board. With a SHARP knife, slice the burrata into 1/2 cubes (as shown above). Top the roasted tomato slices with the burrata pieces. Sprinkle the tops with black pepper and torn basil.
*Cook’s note: I ran out of balsamic vinegar and instead used a balsamic reduction that you can see me brushing onto the tomatoes in one of the pictures. If you find yourself in the same conundrum, simply leave out the balsamic in the initial seasoning. Forty minutes in to the cooking process, brush your balsamic reduction onto the tomatoes and stick back in the oven for 5 minutes.