I am super excited to make this. This week’s recipe is not a recipe at all. It’s more of an idea that you might not have thought of but hopefully will find difficult to ignore. For many of us, tomatoes are exploding right now (or at least I hope so). Some of the best ways to enjoy peak-season tomatoes require very little work at all: Slice them, put them on a plate, sprinkle with salt, add a drizzle of olive oil, and eat them straight-up. Layer some sliced mozzarella in between the tomato slices, tuck some basil leaves in there and you have a caprese salad. Sandwich them between two pieces of bread slathered with mayo (if that’s your thing). Cut them into wedges, toss in a salad bowl with salt, pepper, olive oil, basil—maybe throw-in some bocconcini, or cucumbers, or blanched green beans—and you have a dinner side or a lunch salad. Or make a true panzanella (there are a lot of recipes out there for “panzanella” that are really just a salad with croutons). In a true panzanella, the purpose of the bread is to soak up the torrent of juices that come from real summer tomatoes. I like to veer from the very traditional version by grilling the bread so it has a bit more chew and a slightly smoky flavor even after it soaks up the tomato juices.
This “recipe” for a grilled caprese salad has a thing or two in common with panzanella. Bread is an absolutely essential part of this dish, which can be thrown together in minutes and served to a group of hungry people for lunch or for aperitivo hour. Just make sure to supply small plates and napkins, as it’s deliciously messy.
OK, so here’s how you do it.
- Pick or buy a variety of tomatoes, avoiding the largest ones (but they work too!). I like to use 5 or 6 roughly palm-sized tomatoes to serve 4 to 6 people. Different shapes and colors will make the prettiest display.
- Slice an 8-ounce ball of fresh mozzarella or buffalo mozzarella into thick-ish slices.
- Place a loaf of ciabatta or a good baguette in a 250°F oven to warm and crisp up.
- Cut the top slice off of each tomato and cut out any hard core with a paring knife.
- Put the tomatoes on a dinner plate or small sheet pan and season generously with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
- Heat a grill to medium-high. Lightly oil the grates using tongs and a folded piece of paper towel saturated with oil.
- Place the tomatoes cut side down on the grates and grill for 1 to 2 minutes, until grill marks appear.
- Turn the tomatoes and place a piece of cheese on top of each tomato. Close the lid and cook 1 to 2 minutes longer, until the cheese slumps and softens. Remove each tomato from the grill carefully, using tongs to gently nudge them onto a spatula.
- Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle with any kind of pesto (I like to thin it with more olive oil), red pepper flakes (I love these smoked chili flakes), and flaky salt.
- Serve immediately while the cheese is still warm, along with a small knife to cut into the tomatoes and a spoon for the juices. Cut the bread into slices (or just tear off pieces) for sopping up all the tasty juices as you go.
I recently served this to a small group of friends, and I made everyone their first plate—topping a piece of bread with a slice of the grilled tomato and cheese and spooning over some of the tomato’s juices until the bread was moistened. They had no problem grasping the concept and making seconds, thirds, and fourths on their own.