In the early 90’s I spent a day on the island of Capri. I remember being served what was at the time an innovative Insalata Caprese. The tomato, set on its side, was sliced almost but not quite through, mozzarella slices and basil leaves tucked into each slice. Back then I barely knew what Caprese was, and I was wowed by the stunning presentation.
Twenty years on, the good news of Caprese has spread well beyond the Mediterranean. Most of us have experienced the joys of juicy ripe tomatoes, fragrant basil, and soft creamy mozzarella. This salad is everywhere—convenience stores, university cafeterias, airport to-go cases. Caprese is global.
The downside of a classic gone mainstream is that many only experience the shadow dish, made from bland factory-farmed tomatoes, commercial dried basil, and rubbery mass-produced cheese.
A mainstream classic like Caprese is also subject to variations. I’ve certainly offered up my share of Caprese-inspired recipes–Grilled Cheese, Caprese-Style, Open-Face Omelet with Caprese Flavorings, Caprese-Tossed Warm Spaghetti.
Today I’ve taken the variation one step further, substituting firm, salty grilled haloumi cheese for the delicate creamy fresh mozzarella, and I like it a lot.
Haloumi is not as widely available as mozzarella, but if you’ve got a Whole Foods nearby, you’ll likely find it in their cheese case. Haloumi is a little pricy too, but no more expensive than a nice cut of meat. Served with a thick slab of grilled garlic bread, Grilled Haloumi Caprese makes a substantial vegetarian salad or main course.
As with classic Caprese, good ingredients are important. Buy really good tomatoes—a mix of colors is especially attractive—and make sure to salt them well and let them sit until they start to give off a little juice. Sprinkle the salad with torn fresh basil leaves, and douse it with an herbaceous, peppery extra-virgin olive oil.
It’s Monday, I’m in Florida, local tomatoes are abundant, and it’s almost 90 degrees. I think I just figured out tonight’s supper.
- 2 pounds tomatoes (a variety of sizes and colors, if possible) sliced
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 1 pound haloumi cheese, cut into ⅓-inch thick slices
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus ¼ cup for drizzling
- 1 cup torn basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
- Heat a gas grill, igniting all burners on high for at least 10 minutes, or build a hot charcoal fire. Clean grate with a wire brush, then lubricate generously with an oil-soaked rag.
- While grill heats, slice tomatoes, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and arrange on large platter; set aside. Brush both sides of cheese with 1 tablespoon of the oil and place on hot rack; grill, turning only once, until impressive grill marks form on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Remove cheese from grill, tucking the slices into the tomatoes. Scatter basil over tomatoes and cheese and drizzle with remaining ¼ cup of oil followed by the balsamic vinegar. Let stand a few minutes for tomatoes to release their juices and flavors to mingle. Taste, adjust seasonings, and serve.