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OPINION | FRONT BURNER: Caprese salad gets flavor from basil vinaigrette

by Kelly Brant | June 30, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.
Basil Vinaigrette stands in for the fresh basil leaves in this Easy Caprese salad. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

The sweet basil, lemon thyme, Cherokee purple tomatoes, cilantro/coriander, oregano, rosemary and cucumber plants flourishing in my tiny backyard garden are keeping me busy and well fed this summer.

(I can't say the same for the crookneck yellow squash plants. They fell prey to squash vine borers and are barely hanging on.)

But that basil plant! Flush with flavorful leaves it just keeps growing. Homemade pesto is one of my favorite go-to ways of using/preserving fresh basil. Another is basil vinaigrette.

A touch of Dijon mustard gives this verdant vinaigrette a punch of tangy without adding much mustard flavor. I added a few sprigs of lemon thyme to give it a citrusy note, but you could skip it entirely or replace some of the vinegar with lemon juice for the same effect.

The sweetness of this vinaigrette depends on the type of vinegar you use. For a straight-forward vinaigrette opt for white wine or Champagne vinegar. However, if you prefer your vinaigrette on the sweet side, white balsamic adds a nice round of sweetness. I like it both ways, depending on how I'm using it.

How do I use this vinaigrette? I drizzle it over tomatoes and mozzarella for caprese salad. I toss roasted potatoes in it. I serve it like a chimichurri with roasted or grilled meat. And, of course, on leafy salads.

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Basil Vinaigrette

  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar OR white balsamic vinegar (see note)
  • 1 small or ½ large shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
  • Cracked black pepper
  • About 1 ½ ounces fresh basil leaves (2 to 2 ½ loosely packed cups)
  • Leaves from several sprigs lemon thyme, optional

In a blender, combine the olive oil, vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt, pepper, basil and thyme. Pulse a few times to coarsely chop and then blend until smooth, 15 to 20 seconds. If the vinaigrette is too thick add a tablespoon or two of water to thin it to your desired consistency.

Use immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Makes a generous ½ cup.

Note: White balsamic will add quite a bit of sweetness.

Recipe adapted from davidlebovitz.com.

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I especially like the vinaigrette made with white balsamic on a caprese salad.

Easy Caprese

  • 2 large slicer tomatoes
  • 1 (8-ounce) ball fresh mozzarella
  • Salt and ground black pepper, optional
  • Basil Vinaigrette (see previous recipe)
  • Fresh thyme sprigs, optional

Cut the tomatoes and mozzarella into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Divide and arrange the tomato and mozzarella slices on two plates, alternating on a platter or plate. Season with salt and black pepper, if desired. Drizzle with a tablespoon or more of the vinaigrette. Garnish with fresh thyme, if desired.

Makes 2 servings.

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