Recipe: Caprese with Roasted Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Summer Savory
As perfect as the classic tomato, mozzarella, and basil Caprese salad is, especially now in high summer, professional cooks like me feel the need to mess with it. Why? Well, because we’re an easily bored and restless bunch, and a bored cook with a sharp knife is a potential menace. It’s not that I don’t make this Southern Italian classic straight much of the time, but summer is an exciting season for a cook, so if I’m going go succumb to tinker anxiety, I’m especially going to do it now. And the best thing about summer food play is that changes can be subtle. A few minor adjustments and I can conceivably create an entirely new feel for an established dish. I think I’ve succeeding in doing that here.
Savory is not well known in Italy, not like in France, where it’s used in hearty bean dishes and stews, but I always find it at the Greenmarket in the summer. It smells good to me, so I buy it. Even though savory is pungent (more pungent than oregano), I like it with tomatoes, as long as I roast the two together. This mellows out the herb’s sharpness while intensifying the flavor of the tomatoes, creating a more natural balance (I can’t think of an occasion where I’d use raw savory on raw tomatoes). I’ve added black olives to this dish for the same reason, to push the flavor depth. This is a richer dish than the light-on-the-palate classic Caprese, but it’s good to indulge in some culinary heft in the summer. Oh, and by the way, I designed it as a preamble to a grilled beefsteak.
Caprese with Roasted Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Summer Savory
(Serves 4 as a first course or a light lunch)
10 good-size summer plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon sugar
1 large summer garlic clove, very thinly sliced
5 large sprigs summer savory, the leaves lightly chopped
1 pound cow’s milk mozzarella, thinly sliced
A handful of Nicoise olives
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
Place the cut tomatoes in a medium bowl. Drizzle on enough olive oil to coat them well. Season with salt, black pepper, the allspice, and the sugar, and give them a good toss. Lay the tomatoes out on a sheet pan, and roast them until they’re just browning around the edges and starting to shrink down a bit, about 15 minutes or so. You want to keep them juicy in the center, so don’t let them shrivel down to the sun-dried tomato stage. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, scatter on the garlic and the savory.
Pull the sheet pan from the oven, and let the tomatoes cool off a bit (you want them warm).
Choose a pretty platter, and arrange the tomatoes with alternating slices of mozzarella. Scatter on the olives, and finish the dish with a drizzle of fresh olive oil, a sprinkling of salt, and a few grindings of black pepper.