Cheesy Baked Caprese Casserole Recipe

Caprese casserole on white plate
Caprese casserole on white plate - Michelle Bottalico/Tasting Table

The word Caprese has three definitions listed in the online dictionary published by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, and two of them are of interest to us here. The first is an adjective meaning "from the Isle of Capri in the Gulf of Naples," and the second is a noun meaning "a salad made from tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil." It's agreed that the salad originated in Capri, but it's unclear who invented it and when. One story says it was created to honor Italy after the second World War because it contains the three colors of the Italian flag -- red, white, and green. What we do know is that this dish makes a beautiful display, contains three ingredients with complementary flavors, and lends itself to many variations beyond the classic cold salad.

Recipe developer Michelle Bottalico has created a baked Caprese casserole that keeps the spirit of the original salad by featuring the flavors of tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. Fresh basil leaves decorate a layer of golden, melted mozzarella sitting atop a delicious mixture of cherry tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and salt. On the bottom is a layer of torn leftover bread with tomato puree and olive oil, which bakes up soft enough for an enjoyable bite while developing a rich and crispy finish. Not only is this dish a unique, warm version of the world-famous Caprese salad, but it comes together in a little over half an hour, making it as convenient as it is tasty.

Read more: 26 Types Of Pasta Sauce Explained

Gather Your Cheesy Baked Caprese Casserole Ingredients

Caprese salad ingredients on table
Caprese salad ingredients on table - Michelle Bottalico/Tasting Table

For this recipe, you will need cherry tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and salt to make the flavorful tomato mixture. The base of the casserole will be made from leftover bread. Choose a firm, rustic-style loaf and buy it in advance. You will also need tomato puree, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves.

Step 1: Preheat The Oven

oven display showing preheat symbol
oven display showing preheat symbol - Michelle Bottalico/Tasting Table

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Step 2: Make The Tomato Mixture

cherry tomato salad in bowl
cherry tomato salad in bowl - Michelle Bottalico/Tasting Table

Place the tomatoes, 1 teaspoon olive oil, garlic, and ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl and stir to mix well. Set aside.

Step 3: Prepare The Baking Pan

tomato puree lining baking pan
tomato puree lining baking pan - Michelle Bottalico/Tasting Table

Grease a 9-inch square baking pan with olive oil and spread ¼ cup tomato puree in a thin layer over the oil.

Step 4: Add The Bread

torn bread lining baking pan
torn bread lining baking pan - Michelle Bottalico/Tasting Table

Arrange the bread in a single layer on top of the tomato puree.

Step 5: Top The Bread

bread and tomatoes in pan
bread and tomatoes in pan - Michelle Bottalico/Tasting Table

Dot about 2 more tablespoons tomato puree on top of the bread and season with a pinch of salt.

Step 6: Add The Cherry Tomato Mixture

bread and tomatoes in pan
bread and tomatoes in pan - Michelle Bottalico/Tasting Table

Drain out any liquid that has accumulated at the bottom of the tomato bowl and evenly distribute the tomatoes on top of the bread and tomato puree.

Step 7: Distribute The Mozzarella

mozzarella-topped casserole in pan
mozzarella-topped casserole in pan - Michelle Bottalico/Tasting Table

Evenly distribute the mozzarella over the tomato layer.

Step 8: Top With Basil And Olive Oil

unbaked Caprese casserole in pan
unbaked Caprese casserole in pan - Michelle Bottalico/Tasting Table

Scatter the basil over the mozzarella and drizzle a little olive oil on top.

Step 9: Bake The Casserole

Caprese casserole in baking pan
Caprese casserole in baking pan - Michelle Bottalico/Tasting Table

Place the pan in the oven and bake for 25–30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time, until the cheese is melted and golden.

Step 10: Serve The Baked Caprese Casserole

Caprese casserole served on table
Caprese casserole served on table - Michelle Bottalico/Tasting Table

Let the casserole sit for 5 minutes, then serve.

Cheesy Baked Caprese Casserole Recipe

Caprese casserole in metal pan
Caprese casserole in metal pan - Michelle Bottalico/Tasting Table

What Kind Of Bread Is Best For Baked Caprese Casserole?

sliced bakery bread on table
sliced bakery bread on table - Michelle Bottalico/Tasting Table

For the best results, use leftover bakery bread for this recipe. Choose a firm, crusty loaf with a hearty texture. This type of bread is sometimes referred to as a peasant-style loaf. As this is an Italian recipe, Italian bread is a good choice, but avoid the soft, squishy kind. Any other fresh and robust loaf will work, including ciabatta, sourdough bread, and any of the more robust types of French bread. Bread that's too soft will get too moist and mushy from the tomato puree and the cherry tomato mixture that will surround it in the baking pan.

When choosing a bakery bread, read the ingredients and choose a loaf with a short ingredient list. These loaves will be less processed and will be more likely to go stale. Avoid using packaged sandwich bread because the preservatives will keep it soft long term. Buy the loaf the day before you plan to make the casserole and leave it out to dry and firm up overnight. We find that it's easier to tear the bread into small pieces when it's still fresh and soft and then let the torn pieces sit out overnight.

What Are Other Creative Ways To Use Caprese Salad Ingredients?

Caprese casserole on white plate
Caprese casserole on white plate - Michelle Bottalico/Tasting Table

The best known Caprese dish is the original salad featuring fresh tomatoes, sliced fresh mozzarella, and basil leaves. This is dressed simply with extra-virgin olive oil and salt. When the ingredients are fresh and high-quality, nothing else is needed. While this classic summer salad is enjoyed in Italy and around the world, it's not the only way to serve it. When trying to make the perfect Caprese salad, you can get creative by mixing up the ingredients. Consider new kinds of tomatoes, burrata instead of mozzarella, or fresh herbs like oregano and marjoram instead of, or along with, basil. You can also add entirely new ingredients, such as zucchini, capers, olives, or tuna, to jazz up the salad.

Caprese salad has also inspired many non-salad dishes that use additional ingredients but feature tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil as the primary flavors. This cheesy baked Caprese casserole recipe is one example. Caprese pizza, topped with sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, is another option, and it's fun to make. Add the fresh basil leaves after the pizza comes out of the oven. Caprese chicken is a simple dish in which the traditional Caprese ingredients are baked with the chicken. Caprese pasta can take many forms ranging from a baked cheesy pasta dish to a cold pasta salad. Veggie lovers can make roasted eggplant rolls with fresh tomato, mozzarella, and basil inside. Serve them cold or bake the rolls for a warm and melted version.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.