Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad with Kalamata Olive Vinaigrette is a juicy tomato salad with creamy slices of fresh mozzarella, peppery basil leaves, and the velvety tang of Kalamata olives ~ it’s what summer is ALL about.
tomato salad for dinner!
At our house summer isn’t allow to slip by without a whole lot of chunky tomato salads for dinner. At least once a week. This is the kind of meal that becomes the picture of August in your mind’s eye (it’ll haunt you and sustain you through the long winter months.) The colors change depending on what’s at the market, and I’ll definitely change up the dressing, if there is any. Sometimes the tomatoes are so honey sweet there’s no need. But however I serve them, it’ll be pronto, these aren’t the kind of things you keep sitting around on your counter.
olives and the tomatoes are both fruits, so this is one glorious summer fruit salad!
I figured a rich Kalamata olive vinaigrette would complement the sweetness of this tomato salad, and I was right. I can’t resist those silky purple/black olives, they have such an intense flavor. I whiz them up with fresh garlic, olive oil and California balsamic vinegar ~ can you imagine the flavor? You’ll just have to try it yourself.
are heirloom tomatoes worth the extra cost?
I went a little nuts over heirlooms this year, but I’m not making any excuses. They’re such a pleasure, and the eating part is only half of it. Whenever I encounter them I like to linger and take my time deciding which ones need to come home with me. They are pricy, but if you find locally grown heirlooms they are well worth it. The flavors are more complex and varied than regular tomatoes.
Fondling heirloom tomatoes is a no-no
They’re super delicate… but I do anyway. I’m looking for firm flesh ~ if they’re soft, they’re bruised. It’s sad, because you hate to see them go to waste, but that’s part of the deal when you don’t breed a vegetable to be hardy enough to cross the country in a tractor trailer. I’ll take delicious over hardy any day.
heirloom tomato colors signal different flavors
I always try to get as much of a color range as I can because I love the way the subtle tones play off each other. But it’s not only visual, each variety has a unique flavor. Gather several different shades for a show stopping salad.
where to find heirloom tomatoes
Find them locally at farmers markets and farm stands. Big supermarkets often have them in summer, and I can find heirloom cherry tomatoes year round.
You can grow heirloom tomatoes yourself, but, spoiler alert, it’s not easy. Here’s a guide to some of the best heirlooms to grow yourself. Unless you have a pretty skilled green thumb, better to find them at your local farmers market or grocery store that has the best product department.
ingredients for an heirloom tomato caprese salad
Kalamatas aside, a classic Italian tomato salad needs only fresh basil and fresh mozzarella to complete it. I do add some thinly sliced red onion because I love that sharpness.
- heirloom tomatoes, both full sized and cherries
- fresh basil
- red onion
- kalamata olives
- fresh mozzarella cheese
- balsamic vinegar
- salt and fresh cracked black pepper
fresh mozzarella is key
The creaminess of fresh mozzarella, whether cow’s milk, buffalo, or burrata, makes a big difference in this heirloom tomato caprese salad. The general rule of thumb ~ fresh mozzarella is made for eating raw, so save the shrink wrapped balls for your ‘za.
- Fresh mozzarella is softer and creamier than regular ‘low moisture’ mozzarella. It’s also more perishable. It often comes in plastic tubs, floating in whey. You can buy it in many different sized balls, from tiny ‘pearls’ all the way up to a one pound ball. For my salad I used 4 bocconcini, which are the size of eggs.
- Buffalo mozzarella is fresh mozzarella made with, yup, buffalo milk. Water buffalo milk, to be exact. The cheese has more flavor and a higher fat content than regular fresh mozzarella, and it’s considered a delicacy.
- Burrata is fresh mozzarella cheese mixed with cream, and has an inner layer of soft cream that oozes out when you slice into it, it’s pure decadence.
- You can actually make your own fresh mozzarella at home, it’s on my bucket list.
I’ve used all kinds of mozzarella here on the blog, from the tiniest perline in my MICRO CAPRESE SALAD, to the slightly larger pearles on my GUACAMOLE BRUSCHETTA. My FRIED ROSEMARY MOZZARELLA BALLS and my favorite ANTIPASTO SKEWERS feature the next size up, ciliegine.
heirloom tomato salad tips
- Notice I didn’t slice my tomatoes for this salad, like I usually do. Heirloom tomatoes are famously mis-shapen, and can’t always be sliced evenly. They often have lumps and bumps which beg to be lopped off in big juicy chunks.
- Tomatoes start to go downhill the minute you slice into them, so plan to eat the salad soon after you make it.
- Remember, a good tomato is a good tomato, no matter what color, and buying heirloom tomatoes doesn’t guarantee you anything. Go with what tastes good and you’ll be good 🙂
- This is a summer salad, don’t try to make it offseason.
more tomato recipes
- Tomato Toast with Basil Mayonnaise
- Roasted Halibut with Tomatoes, Peppers, and Olives
- Shirazi Salad (Persian Cucumber Tomato Salad)
- Easy Whitefish with Burst Cherry Tomatoes and Basil
- Heirloom Tomato Toast
Heirloom Caprese Salad with Kalamata Olive Vinaigrette
- 4-6 good sized heirloom tomatoes, in assorted colors
- a handful of multi-colored cherry tomatoes
- a large handful of fresh plucked basil leaves
- 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 4 bocconcini sized balls of fresh mozzarella, about 7 ounces, sliced
- 1 cup Kalamata olives.
- 5 Kalamata olives, pitted
- 1 clove garlic
- 6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, possibly more for thinning
- 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
- fresh basil leaves
- fresh thyme
- Chop the heirloom tomatoes into large bite sized chunks. Halve the cherry tomatoes.
- Put the onions, tomatoes, and basil into a large shallow salad bowl. Nestle the mozzarella slices in and among the tomatoes. Scatter the olives across the top. Add more fresh cracked pepper over all and garnish with more basil and thyme.
- Use a small food processor to blitz the vinaigrette ~ add more olive oil if it is too thick. Taste and add more vinegar if you like, and season with salt and pepper.
- Serve the salad lightly drizzled with the dressing, and provide extra on the side.
- This salad is best eaten right away.
- Can’t find heirlooms? Of course use red ripe tomatoes for this salad, they are wonderful.
- If you use burrata cheese, place it in the center of your salad bowl or platter, and scoop some out with each serving.
- Skip the Kalamata vinaigrette and serve with a traditional drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or a thicker balsamic syrup.
Questions and Reviews
Lol this was an “inspired by” dish because of my ingredients changes. It’s Vidalia onion season, so I used that. Not heirloom tomato season, so I used cherry tomatoes. I forgot to get balsamic vinegar, but we don’t care for that anyway and, from what I’ve read, it’s not authentic to the region that gave us caprese salad. I used some red wine vinegar. Also, my olive bar didn’t have just kalamata olives, just a kalamata/green/castelvetrano blend.
I waited to make the dressing until I get the right vinegar. But the salad was awesome, I never considered adding onion, and the olives absolutely made the dish.
The vinaigrette sounds delicious and will give it a go.Big Heads Up I found a 40 oz. tub of marinated fresh mozzarella balls at a certain Warehouse store on sale for $7.99.They`re bite size and should work well here.Thanks for the recipe.
I’ve decided that I’ll be making this salad at least once a week this summer. The Kalamata olive dressing is brilliant!
Made this for lunch after reading this AM, the vinaigrette is delicious. Will be trying the vinaigrette elsewhere like on our Niscoise Salad.
I love a caprese salad but never add onion or olives. I’m going to try it your way next time.
I love this salad! The olive-y vinaigrette pairs so perfectly with this very pretty dish that always impresses my guests!
If I could chose the most “me” recipe, it would probably be this one. I love the kalamata olive vinaigrette. Your pictures are gorgeous. Magazine worthy.
I totally agree, this is a ‘me’ recipe too 🙂
My family is going to love this! The flavors are perfect and I can’t wait to try it.
I’m always looking for recipes of bright salads with no lettuces or other leafy greens since my husband can’t have those. This looks so good I want to plunge a fork through my computer screen and stab a big bite of every colorful thing!
I made this last year, exactly according to your recipe, and it was divine. The dressing had more flavor than any dressing I’ve ever made, love this so much!