Big Girls, Test Kitchen: A Centerpiece Salad

DISH: Arugula Caprese
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Arugula, Tomatoes, Mozzarella, Pinenuts
MENU: Prosciutto & Fontina Panini with Arugula Pesto; Espresso Biscotti

I love Caprese Salads as much as the next home cook. They are simple to make, can be assembled in advance without worrying, like other salads, about soggy greens, and once the platter is complete, the result is downright beautiful. Every time Leora brings her token Caprese to Mag Club, it always ends up the centerpiece of the table, my pictures from the evening, and, regardless of the repeat performances, my plate.

But if my past menus have been any indication, I often feel cheated when a salad fails to hit that traditional note of crisp, vinegary greens. Perhaps it was my mother’s love of spinach and avocado dressed simply with white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, ample salt and good good olive oil that made me a lifelong greens girl. But I just don’t feel a meal is quite complete without some tossed lettuce on the side to cleanse my palate–or satiate myself with so I don’t get sick from additional portions of Mac n’ Cheese.

I often feel torn though about putting out a regular salad when a meal is served family style on the table. This may have never been an issue for my mother, thanks to her beautiful hand-painted salad bowl (a crafts project we did together 15 years ago). But my plain Jane mixing bowl doesn’t quite have the grace to stand up to accompanying platters of Lamb Bolognese or baked Conchiglie with Five Cheeses. Not the same wow factor as, say, a colorful perfect platter of Caprese.

I had my old friends Ali and Adrienne over for dinner last week and knew I wanted to make my Prosciutto and Fontina Paninis with Arugula Pesto to remind Ali of our time together in Rome. I have a habit of serving simple sandwiches, soup, and salad for casual weeknight dinners, especially when my roommate Caitlyn is attending, since she is easily won over by any variety of grilled cheese.

On this occasion, given the Italian theme, I wanted a more substantial salad we could place in the middle of the table and feast on in between bites of panini. My solution was a hyprid caprese, made with peppery greens piled in the middle, which elevated both everyday salads to one true centerpiece. The arugula is dressed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette and topped with toasted pine nuts and shaved Parmesan. Of course, if you have leftovers of the pesto itself, don’t be shy about drizzling it over the tomatoes and mozzarella for a final, colorful flourish.

From my kitchen, torn up over salad, to yours,



Arugula Caprese
Makes 4-6 servings

This hybrid salad is really just a great way to make the greens gals like myself happy, while creating a slightly more exciting dish to put on the table at a dinner party. You can use spinach instead of arugula, but I really like the peppery bite the latter adds to the creamy cheese. And of course, if you don’t have pinenuts on hand, you can omit them or substitute whatever nut you fancy at the time.


3-5oz baby arugula (depends on the size of your plate/platter)
2-3 large plum tomatoes, sliced
½ lb fresh mozzarella, torn into rustic pieces
2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
Parmesan shavings (optional)

For the vinaigrette:

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp honey
1/4 cup olive oil

Arrange the tomato slices around the end of the platter so they slightly overlap. Place a piece of torn mozzarella on top of each tomato.

In a mixing bowl, toss the arugula with ¾ of the dressing. Pile in the middle of the platter, at the center of the tomato-mozarella circle.

Top with the toasted pinenuts, shaved parmesan, and drizzle the remaining dressing over the cheese and tomatoes on the perimeter.

  • Kate

    I don't even know that sandwiches are necessary with this salad. I think a piece of crispy bread and some extra vinaigrette would make this the perfect light week night meal.

  • Kimmay

    I love Arugula. And this "centerpiece" looks quite nice! great job.

  • Leora

    I do love this salad! so yummy and fun to arrange. I like your vinaigrette recipe, I'm going to try it on other salads too!

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