Ciao, Insalata Caprese!


I think everyone has heard of and/or eaten Insalata Caprese, which is a salad "in the style of Capri," from the Italian region of Campania, made with fresh buffalo mozzarella, juicy red tomatoes, young fresh basil, the best olive oil, and salt and pepper. Typically, made only in the summer with the freshest most flavorful tomatoes, it is a real treat and is served as a first course with crusty bread. However, I do know some people who think it's bland and boring! Gasp! So, for those of you who think Insalata Caprese is "just okay," try this variation for "Fresh Tomato and Goat Cheese Strata with Herb Oil," by Giada de Laurentiis. 

I absolutely LOVE this salad! I highly recommend using heirloom, or at least home-grown tomatoes, if you can find them. This beautiful salad consists of thick juicy tomato slices, layered with light and fluffy goat cheese, drizzled with a fragrant herb oil of mint and basil, and sprinkled with toasted walnuts! Yum! It makes a stunning first course, and tastes fresh and downright exciting! If you have any leftover herb oil, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Use it to drizzle over grilled fish, vegetables, pasta, and in salad dressings.

Fresh Tomato and Goat Cheese Strata with Herb Oil

Serves 4-6

For the Goat Cheese Filling
8 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup walnuts
3 ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/2-3/4" thick

For the Herb Oil
3/4 cup fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup olive oil
Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Goat Cheese Filling
Combine the goat cheese and cream in a medium bowl and beat together using an electric mixer (or stand mixer) until light and fluffy. Season with salt and pepper.

For the Herb Oil
Combine the herbs in a food processor and pulse a few times to chop them. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow stream and process until very smooth with visible flecks of the herbs remaining. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the oil to a small bowl (or jar), cover, and set aside.

Toast the Walnuts
Toast the walnuts in a small, dry skillet over medium heat until they begin to darken slightly and are fragrant. Transfer the nuts to a cutting board to cool slightly, then chop them coarsely.

Plating the Dish
Place one tomato slice on each plate. Top each slice with a spoonful of the goat cheese mixture. Top each plate with another tomato slice and another spoonful of the goat cheese filling. Drizzle each strata with some of the herb oil, and sprinkle with the walnuts.

Recipe adapted from Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites, by Giada de Laurentiis.
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