For all those United Statesians reading this, happy Fourth of July. For everyone else, happy fourth of July, too, just not in the sense of go out and celebrate your national birthday.
So, for the Fourth, we’re making Pasta Caprese. It’s something like a pasta salad, but not completely chilled. And it uses the best vegetables of the summer: tomatoes. Of which we have a lot of, if you read Wednesday’s post, but we don’t mind. We don’t buy those red tennis balls that stores mistakenly label as tomatoes, so there are only a few precious weeks during which we have tomatoes, so we make the most of it, sometimes eating tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Plus as a snack.
This dish will work for lunch and dinner, although you might think it’s good enough to have for breakfast, too. It’ll also be perfect for having along with the traditional barbecue, or you can do as we did, and use it as your main course. We first saw this recipe in Pasta Revolution, by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen, and it sounded good enough to try out in the Scratchin’ Central Kitchen, which we’ve found to be far more useful for us.
Fresh, fresh, fresh, fresh. That’s it. Fresh tomatoes. Fresh mozzarella. Fresh basil. Fresh lemon juice. Follow the four freshes for a nearly perfect dish. Add the fifth fresh of fresh pasta and it’ll be perfection. Simple.
Procedure in detail:
Make marinade. In a large bowl, about 2 to 3 quarts in size, as it will hold your Pasta Caprese when done, mix together the garlic, onion, lemon juice, and olive oil. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. We like to mash the garlic to a paste using the back of a spoon; that way, no one gets a big bite of garlic all at once.
Marinade mozzarella. Drop the mozzarella balls into the marinade and give them a stir to coat. Place in the refrigerator to marinade for the next 30 minutes, or so. If you want, give the cheese a stir from time to time. While the mozzarella is luxuriating in its marinade, you can start working on the tomatoes.
Drain tomatoes. Wash and core the tomatoes and cut into pieces that are between 1/2 inch and 1 inch in size. That is, small enough to eat easily. If you wish, you can remove the seeds, but we didn’t bother. As you cut up the tomatoes, place the pieces in a colander to drain. Let them drain for about 20 minutes. As with the cheese, you can give the tomatoes a stir from time to time.
Freeze mozzarella. This might seem strange, but there is a method to the madness. Freezing the mozzarella will prevent it from melting when you add the hot pasta. Great idea, right? So, remove the mozzarella balls from the marinade, cut them in half and place on a plate in the freezer. They need to freeze for about 20 minutes, which is just about the amount of time needed to complete the Caprese.
Marinade tomatoes. Once the mozzarella is out of the marinade, put the tomatoes in. Give them a stir and let them marinade, stirring from time to time, while you cook the pasta.
Boil pasta. Place a large kettle of salted water on high and bring to a rapid boil. Add the pasta and cook until it’s tender on the outside, but still just a bit chewy on the inside; or, as they say in Italy, al dente, to the tooth. Drain the pasta thoroughly.
Combine and stand. Add the pasta and mozzarella to the tomatoes and toss. Note that the cheese does not melt — which would be weird in this dish. Let it stand for 5 minutes so the cheese finishes thawing and the pasta cools and soaks up some of the tomato juice and marinade.
Add basil. Add the basil and toss to combine. We add it right at the end so it doesn’t wilt and get soggy-looking, which wouldn’t be very appetizing.
We had Pasta Caprese with a couple of fresh dinner rolls and it made a perfect meal. Obviously, this dish will only be as good as the ingredients, especially the tomatoes. We used some fresh heirloom tomatoes that we picked up at the CSA earlier in the day and they were top-notch. The tomatoes, by themselves, would make any dish very good; adding fresh basil and mozzarella made it exceptional. Fresh pasta was the proverbial icing on the cake. Five big bursting stars shot up on rockets!