Strict purists say that a true Caprese salad has only five ingredients: mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, salt and olive oil.
I agree. There is no need to do more. The experience of eating a proper Caprese can be sublime.
And yet, a few complementary add-ons can turn the classic version into more of a meal, and I'm not opposed to that. I just consider it a variation on a theme. During these sun-drenched, drowsy summer days, a bumped-up Caprese antipasto is a drop-dead easy lunch or dinner.
As for those basic ingredients, thank heavens we now have sweet, ripe tomatoes, which are a prerequisite and a joy worth waiting for. Good mozzarella, another necessity, is not impossible to find. To surround them, I added roasted peppers, olives, caperberries and prosciutto, which hardly seemed like sacrilege. They probably would have been on my table anyway; I merely let everything mingle on one large platter.
For such a simple preparation, no precise recipe is needed, though I have given quantities for the antipasto I made at my house recently. But it's more of a method than a recipe, and a very forgiving and uncomplicated one at that.
What's really important is to get the freshest mozzarella possible and to bring the cheese to room temperature. The texture will improve significantly, its soft creaminess becoming more apparent.
As for roasting peppers, I don't find it necessary to put them in a covered bowl or bag to steam after
Finally, erase from memory the horrible versions of so-called Caprese you get in many restaurants year-round, the tasteless hothouse tomatoes and rubbery cheese, stacked tall and drizzled with who-knows-what-kind of reduced vinegar concoction. They range from minor crimes to major misdemeanors to heartless atrocities.
This is a dish to eat at home, in season, with a glass of cool wine.
New York Times columnist David Tanis is a former Chez Panisse chef.