Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Holy Trinity

Tomatoes, basil and mozzerella (fresh, please), is not exactly a groundbreaking combination. In fact, these days I'd say it's pretty much downright ordinary. These three ingredients are often served together with a drizzle of olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar as a Salad Caprese at just about every half decent Italian restaurant. Heck, even American restaurants serve Caprese salads, because, well, they're just that good. Considering how ubiquitous this combo is, it's hard to be overly inventive with them. But to be honest, that's okay with me. They're amazingly delicious in their simplicity--it's a popular combo for a reason, right?

I have been toying with the idea of adding the Caprese components to pasta for a while now. I did try it once, in fact, although I think I screwed it up big time. I tried stewing the tomatoes or something, and melting the mozz. It was a big mess. Although it did teach me that these ingredients are meant to be enjoyed fresh & au naturale. So tonight was Take 2, and it was a much better success. Perhaps because I delegated and didn't actually do the cooking...?

I'll write out the recipe, but it's very simple. And it's ready in about the time that it takes to boil a pot of pasta, and you'll only need 2 dishes. The one thing that I will say about the recipe though, is get
quality ingredients. They don't have too be top quality (I for one am too lazy/cheap/stuck on an island too seek out the best), but whatever you use, make sure you have ingrendients that are enjoyable in their natural state.

In particular, I can't say enough about having good olive oil. Finding good olive oil requires a willingness to spend a little bit of money and just taste what's out there and finding one that appeals to your tastebuds. Two years ago I cruised around some Greek islands with my parents and a few of their foodie friends. While I was there I gained about 5 lbs and a devotion to Greek style Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I just use Trader Joe's brand Kalamata oil, which is relatively cheap, as far as EVOO goes, and is quite delicious. However, I've also tasted some store brand oils that are real duds. I've been so dedicated the TJ's brand Kalamata EVOO for so long now that I've forgotten what else is out there that's good. But look around and find one that you like, because it's such a kitchen staple. And without further ado, the recipe:

Macy's Speedy Fast Caprese Pasta Toss:

*Pasta. I like a fork pasta for this recipe, like fusili or penne, but choose your favorite. For 2 people with big appetites, about 1/2 lb should be plenty. I will also note that while I usually cook with whole wheat pasta, I would recommend plain (regular, white?) pasta for this dish. Whole wheat pasta has a grainy-ness and nutty-ness that stands up to hearty sauces well, but for this I wanted the other ingredients to be the stars, and the pasta to be the vehicle, hence the white pasta.
* 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes. I think organic ones taste better, and for such a small quantity, you'll probably only spend about 50 cents more
* Basil-about 1 cup packed leaves
* Garlic--2 large cloves (or less, if that sounds very overpowering to you)
* 8 oz fresh Mozzerella, either the kind that comes in a container packed in water, or the kind that's wrapped in plastic, like Bel Gioioso brand.
* Extra Virgin Olive Oil--a hearty drizzle (1/8 to 1/4 cup)
* Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook your pasta according to package directions.

2. While the pasta is cooking, halve the grape tomatoes and put them in a large serving bowl. Mince the garlic and add to the bowl. Cube the cheese (about 3/4 inch cubes) and add to bowl. Rinse and roughly chop the basil and add to the bowl.

3. When the pasta is cooked, drain and toss with a hearty drizzle of olive oil. Add to serving bowl and toss all ingredients together and serve immediately. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and a crack of freshly ground pepper, if desired. Enjoy!

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