This offer only valid until early September. Why? Because you can only make this properly if you use the proper ingredients, and the proper ingredients for this dish are highly seasonal.
That said, if you’re doing this in late July, August or early September this is a piece of cake (so to speak). Here’s what you need:
Fully ripe tomatoes from a farm stand or farmers’ market. If you bought them at a supermarket, please proceed to the checkout and don’t read any further. Ripe as in, deep red all the way through. Not (shudder) pink, or green. Unless you’re using heirloom varieties, in which case advance to Go and collect bonus points.
Am I being doctrinaire and elitist here? Yes, and with good reason. This is only as good as the basic ingredients, and I want you to be happy. Which you won’t be if you bought the plastic-wrapped tomatoes at the A&P. Anyway, you can grow tomatoes anywhere so it’s not really elitist, just doctrinaire.
You also need fresh mozzarella. This is the kind you get from an Italian grocer, or at the deli counter in the better-grade supermarkets. It should be soft and white and ball-shaped, a little roughly textured on the outside and packed in water or wrapped in a piece of saran wrap. If it’s shrink-wrapped, vaguely rectangular and has a printed label, it’s not right. If it’s yellow and slick, and feels like it would bounce right back up if you dropped it on the floor, well that’s not right either.
You need fresh basil leaves. Not a ton, just a handful. Need I say, not dried?
Now that you’re back from shopping, slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella, and shred the basil leaves. Arrange artfully on a platter. I usually like to alternate slices in a spiral pattern. Sprinkle with some salt. If you have sea salt, all the better; If you have fleur de sel, well that gives you amazing results. A little freshly ground black pepper won’t hurt. And drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil over the whole thing. That took, what, two minutes?
Serve and let your guests’ praise wash all over you.