The best caprese salad shows off summer’s finest with creamy mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes topped with fresh leafy basil and fruity olive oil. Serve the salads individually or turn this simple Italian staple into a party by creating a DIY caprese salad bar where everyone can help themselves.
I’ve been a fan of caprese salads for as long as I can remember. But it was only recently I was introduced to the brilliant idea of creating a self-serve caprese salad bar no matter how big your party.
My husband and I were at Park City’s Stein Eriksen Lodge’s Hops on the Hill sampling brews, bites, and bands. One of the food stations featured a huge cutting board loaded with a variety of fresh heirloom tomatoes sliced to order by a chef who I likened to a bartender, but who serves up tomatoes instead of cocktails. Now that’s my kind of bar.
Alongside these gorgeous hued tomato orbs were different vinegars, oils, salts, and saucey spreads to choose from, top the tomatoes, and make your own creation.
Trolling the topping options and dressing my salad I literally had one of those, “Why didn’t I think of this” moments. A caprese salad bar is easy entertaining at it’s finest, and it’s a wow-factor presentation for guests to interact with too.
I mean, why should the host be the only one to have all the fun?
What Caprese Salad Is Made Of
Originating on the island of Capri, Caprese salads are the signature of Southern Italy where the small towns up and down the Amalfi coast produce the most delicious tomatoes you will find anywhere in the world. I mean, I’ve had some amazing garden tomatoes here in the States, but I can attest that nothing compares to an organic, fresh tomato eaten straight from Italian soil.
Simplicity is the signature of a good caprese, and keeping it spare but still loading it with flavor is easy to do. But if you want to jazz it up for yourself or your guests, a caprese salad bar is for you.
Here’s the basics of what goes into a caprese salad:
- Fresh and juicy summer tomatoes, even better when they’re still warm from the garden. Any size will do. I like to mix up the colors and sizes to add variety to the plate, and the subtleness of different flavors too.
- Fresh and creamy mozzarella cheese. Fresh mozzarella is usually packed in water or sold in a log. Choose a firm log that isn’t too squished from being packaged. These days you can find logs of mozzarella pre-sliced, or it’s pretty dang easy to slice your own. I like to serve mine alongside the smaller mozzarella pearls, ciliegine (cherry size) or bocconcini (apricot size) for a variety of shapes. Drain the water it comes in and discard. If you’re really looking for that wow factor, nothing is more delicious than ultra creamy burrata cheese like I use in this caprese salad.
- Fresh basil. I grow basil just so I’ll have it within reach specifically for this salad. It’s best to tear the basil leaves to release their heavenly aroma rather than cutting with a knife, which can macerate them and make them wilt.
- The best olive oil you can afford. A great, fruity, extra virgin olive oil is my absolute favorite for this salad and I’m totally willing to spend the extra dollar or four because it makes the difference. I savor this oil for drizzling on salads or veggies, it’s not one to cook with since it’s so special. This one is my current favorite.
How to Make a DIY Caprese Salad Bar
First off, find a large cutting board (or two) to use as your base. I bought this large, white, restaurant-style cutting board years ago for big jobs like this.
Set out a sharp, serrated bread knife like this one for easy slicing of the tomatoes for the guests to help themselves to. Or, assign someone to man up and play tomato bartender, slicing tomatoes and portioning out to guests as they like.
Start with the basics of the caprese salad ingredients above, then up the ante with some simple topping additions to drizzle, sprinkle, and season.
Add a little crunch with simple crackers, slices of baguette, or crisped foccacia toasts to serve alongside.
Caprese Salad Toppings
There’s no need to make a caprese salad dressing for this caprese salad bar. Instead, use some of the ingredients below to take your caprese over the top. They’re all totally optional, and can be switched or mixed and matched to fit yours and your guests cravings.
- Extra virgin olive oil: As mentioned above, use a great quality, fruity olive oil for the best, simple taste.
- Balsamic glaze: When balsamic vinegar is cooked down and reduced, it turns into a sweet, syrupy glaze. I rarely make my own and buy this one from the grocery store instead.
- Romesco sauce: Add a jar of roasted peppers to a blender with olive oil, a handful of sliced almonds, clove of garlic and smoked paprika and pulse to make this simple, chunky sauce.
- Pesto: Make your own easy homemade basil pesto or arugula pesto, or buy a great quality jarred version from the grocery store.
- Flavored salts: Himalayan sea salts, pink sea salt, flaky white, or flavored salts all add their unique cast to juicy tomatoes and actually make each bite sweeter.
- Freshly ground black pepper: Instead of using pepper straight from the can, break out your coffee grinder and use it to grind fresh peppercorns. You’ll totally taste the difference. Process the peppercorns longer for a finer grind, or pulse to get a more coarse texture.
- Pinenuts: Creamy and high in good for you fats, toast your pinenuts to bring out their earthy essence.
I added prosciutto to my caprese board, but you don’t have to stop there. Experiment with the flavors of the Mediterranean and add any of these ingredients ideas:
- antipasti ingredients like salty salami or pepperoni
- kalamata olives
- artichoke hearts
- roasted red bell peppers
- sliced melons or stone fruit
- dried fruit or nuts
What Goes Well with Caprese Salad
I mean, would you look at that board!!??! It’s summer all day long!
This caprese salad bar is great for parties as an appetizer, or serve it alongside the main for a fun self-serve salad.
Make it a main vegetarian dish when you add avocado or chickpeas, or go meaty and Mediterranean-style when you serve it with:
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Bookmark this recipe and leave a comment below, or take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
THE BEST Caprese Salad + DIY Caprese Salad Bar
Caprese salads show summer's best with creamy mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes topped with fresh leafy basil and fruity olive oil. Serve the salads individually or turn this simple Italian staple into a party by creating a DIY caprese salad bar where everyone can help themselves.
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella balls such as ciliegine or bocconcini, drained
- 3 pounds tomatoes about 6 large heirlooms, or assorted fresh garden tomatoes
- 1 bunch fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon balsamic glaze
Place the mozzarella on a large board or platter with the drained mozzarella balls. Slice the tomatoes into wedges and assemble individual salads on plates with the mozzarella and basil leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
If desired, drizzle with balsamic glaze, seasoned salts, toasted pine nuts or add pesto and romesco sauce. Serve prosciutto on the side of desired.
Consider sprucing up your DIY Caprese Salad Bar even more by adding flavored salts and sauces. Pesto, romesco sauce, and olive spreads make great toppings. Use antipasto ingredients that compliment the Mediterranean palate as well. Sliced stone fruits and melons are terrific accompaniments as well.
THE BEST Caprese Salad + DIY Caprese Salad Bar
Amount Per Serving
Calories 264 Calories from Fat 180
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 8g50%
Vitamin A 1853IU37%
Vitamin C 23mg28%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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