There are few things that match the pleasure of eating a ripe, in-season tomato. But if you live somewhere where the window of peak tomato enjoyment feels like a few weeks (I’m in Boston), you’re dealing with flavorless, mealy supermarket tomatoes most of the year.
This is a problem if you’re a lover of caprese salads, like I am. So what to do when the tomato-basil-mozzarella craving hits and it’s 10 below zero outside?
In my role as a test cook, I get to taste many different ingredients. Imagine my delight when I found an ingredient that makes a great winter substitute for tomatoes in a caprese salad.
In developing recipes for the forthcoming sequel to our popular The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook, we found these squat, orange-colored fruits were a perfect autumn and winter stand-in for tomatoes in this classic Italian dish. A persimmon’s texture is similar to tomatoes (though not as juicy or seedy), and the flavor might be described as honey-sweet.
Persimmons are native to Asia and in-season in the US from October through February. Look for the tomato-shaped Fuyu variety, which can be eaten while still firm or just soft to the touch. (We find the acorn-shaped Hachiya variety a bit too astringent in a winter caprese.)
To make caprese salad: Stem and core persimmons, then slice like a tomato and toss them with lemon juice to balance out their sweetness. (You don’t need to peel persimmons, though feel free.) Layer with fresh mozzarella—or burrata if you’re feeling fancy—and drizzle with olive oil and a shower of basil.
Adding prosciutto is optional, and not traditional, but it’s highly delicious.