This particular recipe is my favorite “salad” of all time: Caprese. Maybe this is because it doesn’t contain any lettuce and I am not too much of a lettuce person (haha). I ate the one pictured last night, and felt like I could have licked my plate at the end. Now that is a good salad! And if you love it as much as I do you can get creative with different ways to serve it.
What Is Caprese Salad?
Caprese Salad is a simple Italian recipe consisting of a few fresh ingredients. Commonly served at fancy restaurants, it’s one of those dishes that looks and sounds elaborate but is actually really easy to make. Try it as a light summer lunch or Mediterranean-inspired appetizer.
What Is in Caprese Salad?
Almost every Caprese Salad uses the same standard ingredients: tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. Stacked together, they closely resemble the Italian flag! It’s one of the few salads out there that doesn’t have any lettuce.
Grape, Medium Heirloom, or Any Fresh Tomato
The best salads use the freshest tomatoes you can find, ideally grown in your own garden! Any tomato variety will work. For bigger pieces, choose a large tomato like beefsteak or medium heirlooms. If you want bitesized, slice Roma or go for cherry or grap tomatoes instead.
Fresh Mozzarella Cheese
Any fresh mozzarella cheese is fine but if you want an authentic (and delicious!) Caprese Salad I highly recommend splurging on the soft Mozzarella Fresca balls.
Fresh Basil Leaves
Fresh basil can easily be grown in an herb garden or purchased fresh from the store. Don’t skip the fresh basil or you’ll wind up with a dish that’s seriously lacking in flavor.
Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil
This is the dressing that tops fresh Caprese Salad and balances out the flavors. While balsamic vinegar is key, it brings out the sweetness in the tomatoes, a light drizzle of olive oil is great as well.
Salt and Pepper
Salt and pepper are key in this dish, don’t be shy!
Caprese Salad with Basil Pesto
I absolutely love to add a bit of homemade basil pesto to my Caprese for extra flavor. You can either put the pesto on top of your salad or mix it in.
How to Make a Caprese Salad (+ Fun Serving Ideas)
Traditionally, Caprese Salad is sliced and served family style. To make one yourself, simply slice up each ingredient, arrange on a platter or large plate, then drizzle with (or even toss with) balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and sprinkle with salt & pepper.
Instead of a large dish, this recipe was originally created for individual servings. These are great as an easy (and healthy) summer lunch or side dish idea when you don’t want to prepare something complicated.
Caprese Salad Skewers
These are a big hit at parties (for hors d’oeuvres or appetizers) and with the kids. To make Caprese Salad skewers, slide a grape or cherry tomato, fresh basil leaf, and small ball of mozzarella cheese onto a large toothpick. You can also repeat the pattern multiple times on a skewer for a larger snack.
Once layered, drizzle the skewer with balsamic vinegar, or you can even boil down the balsamic vinegar with a little honey first to make a glaze. Serve with pesto dip.
Peach Caprese Salad
When you arrange your Caprese Salad include a fresh peach sliced between the tomato and mozzarella. I recommend cutting your peach in a round, thin slice so your layers hold together. This also works well on a platter or skewer!
Caprese Salad With Chicken
For a complete meal, add a cooked chicken to your salad. You can also stuff cooked chicken with salad ingredients (similar to the panini below) for a delicious alternative to regular chicken breasts.
Check out the panini I made, which is just the salad ingredients melted inside two pieces of whole-wheat bread and served with balsamic vinegar for dipping.
Click here for the basil pesto recipe.
38 thoughts on “Caprese Salad with Basil Pesto”
I’m very interested in more unprocessed recipes please.
I was wondering if you have more lettuce free salad ideas?
Hi. Here are a couple: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/06/14/recipe-lime-cilantro-quinoa-salad/ and https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/07/01/whole-wheat-pasta-salad-%E2%80%93-two-ways/.
Quick and easy just used healthier salad recipe, my all family members loved it.
Love the basil pesto salad. The recipe on this page is wrong, however. It should say 4 T of olive oil. Thanks for the yummy recipes!
This was easy and delicious. I’m using this for a pesto pasta that I will top with tomato and parmesan.
can you post the panini and balsamic vinegar recipe
Hello Anya. We donâ€™t have a recipe specific to the panini but Lisa explained it as such: â€œCheck out the panini I made (pictured below), which is just the salad ingredients melted inside two pieces of whole-wheat bread and served with balsamic vinegar for dipping.â€ Hope that helps. ~Amy
I love the caprese salad…I have to suggest trying the Balsamic Glaze at Trader Joes for this. it’s stays on top without running all onto the plate. it’s also fab on Brucchetta and strawberries also..bad spelling I know
I made the panini and added bacon. Yum!
Andee, Pesto is supposed to be thick not runny. Add more basil and cheese to thicken it up.
If using store bought pesto, how much do you need for this recipe?
Hi Valerie. The recipe just calls for a dollop or 2. So, maybe 2-3 tablespoons depending on how much you like. Jill
Hi! I’ve never made pesto, is it supposed to be pretty thick- not runny?
It’s supposed to be a little on the runny side when you first make it because of the oil. Once you refridgerate it, it will thicken up because the oil gets thick as it cools.
Hi Andee. Yes, it’s thick, I guess almost paste like. Jill
I am definitely going to try this one.
Wow! So yummy! This whole concept was a new one for me, bought basil and pine nuts for the first time ever to make my very own batch of pesto and whipped all the ingredients together on a yummy whole wheat pita and grilled to perfection. Definitely having this again tomorrow for lunch. Who new that caprese (something I’d never heard of) could be sooooo good?!
I made these sandwiches for dinner tonight and they were awesome! I didn’t have any fresh basil, so I spread the pesto on the bread before I grilled it and it was awesome. Next time I’ll use even more :) Thank you for sharing!
Can you eat pumpkin seeds? I have read where people substituted pine nuts with other nuts or seeds. I have seen other people comment that they have made pesto without any nuts at all.
love the pumpkins seed idea — pine nuts are so expensive — i’ve also used almonds or walunts — whatever i have on hand — of course, that won’t help someone with nut allergies….
i’m guessing sunflower seeds would work well too! gonna give those a try tonight…
Ok. So, I’m taking a risk at asking a question when this post is like 2 years old… But, I’ll ask it anyway with some hope!
Sooo, LOVE this idea of this recipe and the sandwich version! Want to try both… But then I saw the pesto portion. This happens often. I see a recipe that looks soooooo good and a great healthy choice for my family, but then must pass on it for some reason. We have nut and fish allergy in our home (enough for epi pens). so, every time I see pesto in a recipe I cringe and move on. That cuts out many options and many recipes. Any ideas? Like, does the pesto taste as good if I just omit the nuts? Would the salad or sandwich taste as good if I omitted the pesto all together? Is there a substitute for the pine nuts?
For the sandwich or the salad, I would just use the basil leaves or omit it all together. I don’t know about a nut substitution in the pesto, but I have seen other nuts than pine nuts used in pesto recipes.
yes — i’ve made it with a mortar and pestle — not nuts — delish!
I make pesto all the time and never use pine nuts or any nuts. It doesn’t matter, it still taste good. I have never really tasted a difference.
I know I’ve made basil pesto without pine nuts before; not this exact recipe, but something similar. You may have to try adding a little more Parmesan to keep the right consistency, but it’s worth a try.
I know it’s late but I saw on another blog once where someone used sunflower seeds in place of the pine nuts. She said it still tasted nutty but without the nut allergy.
I had never had either a Caprese Salad nor a pesto, so these were both new. I grilled them like a grilled cheese or panini. Score! We’re going to do the Caprese Pasta Salad this week.
can you freeze the pesto??? if so for how long?
I freeze a lot of my pestos but find that they don’t last nearly as long when you pull them out. So I would use them up quickly or freeze them in smaller batches so it doesn’t go bad before you can eat it all.
Yes, it can be frozen. I think it would be okay for a few months (if it even lasts that long…I use mine up pretty quickly!) Also, I freeze mine in ice cube trays, but remember since it contains oil it will still retain some liquid.
did you include the pesto in the mix of things for the sandwich or just the other stuff? New at all of this. THanks.
Yes…I definitely included the pesto. I rubbed it on just like you would mayo. Enjoy!
Yeah! I absolutely love caprese salad made only with fresh mozzarella. I have made it on brushetta, but had not considered a panini before. Now I know what is for lunch tomorrow. Thanks for the site. I just found it and already it is bookmarked.
I’ve turned all my salads the past few weeks into capreses – love it! I use spinach as a base, slice up a bunch or cherry tomatoes (orange red and yellow are growing like crazy from the garden!)and sliced basil leaves and chucks of mozz – also excellent with goat cheese crumbles. Haven’t tried a pesto yet but now I know what to do with all the basil from the garden! Thanx!
Caprese Salad is one of my favorite things to eat too! Just last week our family went to Hershey Park and when I was looking for a vegetarian dinner for myself, I found a panini stand serving caprese panini. It was so delicious!! I’m so excited to try your recipe – I’m sure it will be even more tasty, especially with homegrown tomatoes!!
Yum! Really want to try this!!