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Originally published Saturday, July 28, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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Caprese antipasto: A summertime Italian wedding

City Kitchen: During sun-drenched, drowsy summer days, a bumped-up Caprese antipasto is a drop-dead easy lunch or dinner. Recipe: Caprese Antipasto

The New York Times

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Strict purists say that a true Caprese salad has only five ingredients: mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, salt and olive oil.

I agree. There is no need to do more. The experience of eating a proper Caprese can be sublime.

And yet, a few complementary add-ons can turn the classic version into more of a meal, and I'm not opposed to that. I just consider it a variation on a theme. During these sun-drenched, drowsy summer days, a bumped-up Caprese antipasto is a drop-dead easy lunch or dinner.

As for those basic ingredients, sweet, ripe tomatoes are a prerequisite and a joy worth waiting for. Good mozzarella, another necessity, is not impossible to find. To surround them, I added roasted peppers, olives, caperberries and prosciutto, which hardly seemed like sacrilege. They probably would have been on my table anyway; I merely let everything mingle on one large platter.

For such a simple preparation, no precise recipe is needed, though I have given quantities for the antipasto I made at my house recently. But it's more of a method than a recipe, and a very forgiving and uncomplicated one at that.

What's really important is to get the freshest mozzarella possible, and to bring the cheese to room temperature. The texture will improve significantly, its soft creaminess becoming more apparent.

As for roasting peppers, I don't find it necessary to put them in a covered bowl or bag to steam after they have been blackened over a burner, as some people advise. I prefer a firmer, barely cooked pepper, so I just leave them on a plate to cool after cooking; the skin slips off without a problem.

Finally, erase from memory the horrible versions of so-called Caprese you get in many restaurants year-round, the tasteless hothouse tomatoes and rubbery cheese, stacked tall and drizzled with who-knows-what-kind of reduced vinegar concoction. They range from minor crimes to major misdemeanors to heartless atrocities.

This is a dish to eat at home, in season, with a glass of cool wine.

CAPRESE ANTIPASTO

Time: About 30 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

2 ripe bell peppers, 1 red and 1 yellow if possible

Salt and pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound fresh mozzarella, at room temperature

2 pounds ripe tomatoes, in assorted colors if possible

½ pound cherry tomatoes, in assorted colors if possible

Handful of caperberries, or 1 tablespoon large capers, rinsed

Handful of good-quality olives

6 thin slices of prosciutto, more if desired

Handful of basil leaves

1. To roast peppers, set them directly in the flames of a stovetop gas burner turned to high, or over hot coals if you happen to be grilling outdoors. (You could also roast under the broiler, with peppers as close to the heat source as possible.) Turn peppers with tongs until skins are blackened and blistered all over, 5 to 7 minutes.

Remove to a plate and let cool. To peel, cut peppers lengthwise. Scrape seeds and veins away with your knife, then turn peppers over and scrape away charred skin. Slice peeled peppers into ½-inch ribbons and place in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then add 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss. (Peppers may be roasted up to a day ahead.)

2. Cut mozzarella into ¼-inch slices. Cut tomatoes into ½-inch slices and halve cherry tomatoes.

3. Arrange mozzarella slices in the center of a large platter. Surround with tomatoes and sprinkle lightly with salt. Add roasted pepper strips, caperberries and olives. Drape prosciutto around the platter. Garnish with basil leaves. Drizzle generously with olive oil and serve.

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