Caprese salad is a very simple Italian salad made with slices of tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil arranged on a plate and drizzled with olive oil. The ingredients are simple, but intense.
The origin of Caprese salad is unknown, but it is definitely a discovery of the twentieth century. Some say it was the invention of a patriotic mason, who after World War I, created sandwiches with the ingredients representing the color of the Italian flag.
The first mention of Caprese salad was in the early 1920s, when it appeared on the menu at Hotel Quisisana, the iconic five-star Capri hotel that has been a favorite of politicians, poets, royalty and rock stars through the years.
One of the reasons Caprese salad is so popular today is that is easy to prepare. There are few ingredients, which means one should purchase the best tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar available.
While some will frown at any adaptation of the classic Caprese salad, Orzo Caprese Salad offers a fresh take on the traditional salad. It is flavorful and full of mouth-watering deliciousness. Preparation is a little more involved, because the pasta must be cooked, and the balsamic vinegar mixture must be reduced to a sweet tangy syrup.
The addition of orzo adds additional texture to the juicy tomatoes, the smooth mozzarella, and sweet basil. Orzo is a form of pasta shaped like a large grain of rice. Look for orzo made with durum semolina wheat, a hard variety of wheat. It will hold its shape after it is cooked. Avoid orzo made with soft wheat, because it will turn to mush and disintegrate during cooking.
Local ingredients are widely available, so do not skimp in this recipe. I suggest using one of J.Q. Dickinson salts that will add a little crunch and burst of flavor. Use freshly ground pepper to add some pungency. Bourbon Smoked Pepper from Kentucky is a good choice.
High quality cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil like DiTrapano olive oil, produced on a Charleston family’s 16-acre estate near the Mediterranean Sea, will give the salad a robust flavor.
To enjoy the taste of summer, add some artisan bread from the local bakery and a glass of red wine.
Orzo Caprese Salad
• 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
• 1 tablespoon honey
• ½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
• ½ cup orzo pasta, cooked
• 1 cup cherry tomatoes
• 3 to 4 ounces fresh mozzarella
• ¼ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
• 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
• Salt and pepper to taste
To make the Balsamic Syrup: Combine the balsamic vinegar, honey, and Dijon mustard in a small pan. Heat to boil over medium heat. Reduce to medium-low and allow the mixture to simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool completely. It will thicken as it cools.
For the Salad: Cook the orzo according to package directions. Drain. Pour orzo into a bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil so the orzo won’t stick together. Cool.
Wash and slice tomatoes in half. Add them to the orzo in the bowl. Cube the fresh mozzarella and add to the bowl. Wash and tear basil leaves and add to the orzo mixture. Toss everything together with the remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Before serving, drizzle the Orzo Caprese Salad with balsamic syrup to taste.
Any leftover salad or syrup should be kept in sealed containers in the refrigerator.