Monday, July 12, 2010

Not Terribly New, But So What?

There is a time and place for everything and the time for this pasta is now!

Actually, it's good for another couple of months unless this drought completely wipes out all tomato plants in the mid-Atlantic. This is not even a recipe but a very forgiving method. Only caveat is that you like tomatoes. I know this knocks a few readers out here, but for anyone who even tolerates tomatoes this is the perfect, quick, hot weather meal.

I made this last week when I realized both that I had half of an extra large ball of mozzarella cheese and several beautiful tomatoes left over from a Caprese salad earlier in the week and that we'd be gone for the weekend. Not wanting to waste either component, this was our dinner the night before we left town.

The ingredient list is short: tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, pasta or another grain, basil and mozzarella cheese. What makes this dish sing the Star Spangled Banner is the quality of the ingredients. Here is where you use those garden tomatoes you get to pick from your neighbors garden while they're on vacation and you're watering their plants, or if you don't have your own garden or a generous neighbor, buy them from a farmstand. You really want the flavor of field grown and ripened tomatoes here. Grocery store tomatoes just don't ripen to the same flavor. That said, type of tomato is completely flexible. You can use regular old beefsteak tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, yellow or green zebra tomatoes, grape or cherry tomatoes of different colors, or mix of any of these. In the photo below, you can see (I hope) that I've used red and yellow tomatoes cut into chunks, as well as some really beautiful dark red grape tomatoes with a pale yellow striation. I probably used three large tomatoes and then about half a pint of the grape tomatoes. I really like using a mix of colors.

Once you've cut the tomatoes into basically same sized pieces - I cut the large tomatoes into bite-sized chunks first and then halved and sometimes quartered the grape tomatoes to match - put them into a bowl and pour about three tablespoons of great olive oil over top. This is the time to pull out the good stuff. Sprinkle with a little kosher or sea salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Give it a quick mix and let it sit for 15 or 20 minutes. Meantime, put up some water for the pasta or farro or even quinoa. If you choose to use one of these other grains, I recommend cutting the tomatoes into a smaller dice so the large chunks don't overwhelm the smaller grains. You can even use the tomatoes done this way as a bruschetta topping.

Once the tomatoes have had some time to marinate or macerate, actually, they should produce a good bit of liquid for a sauce. Add the pasta or other grain when ready and mix well. If it seems a little dry, just add a touch more olive oil. Chiffonade (cut into thin slivers) or gently tear some fresh basil leaves, maybe ten or so large leaves, over top and mix. At this point, I like to let the pasta sit for a few minutes to cool slightly before adding the mozzarella cheese. I prefer the cheese to remain in chunks rather than getting melty and stringy. Here too, use some good, fresh mozzarella in a large ball, and cut it into small chunks. If short on time, you can also buy the little tiny balls of fresh mozzarella and you don't have to cut them. Mix and taste for salt and you're ready to eat!


  1. Looks great . . . other than the tomatoes! What's a good substitute?

  2. Jon - sadly, this might just be one joy of summer you'll miss out on. I can't think of a good substitute for tomatoes here. Maybe pesto?