Monday, May 30, 2011

Pasta Caprese (or, Is Anybody Out There?)

It's been forever and a year! (Mostly a year...In fact, truly, nearly a for-real year, since my last post was last June...Yipes!)

Let's pretend that never happened, shall we? I can't make any "will post twice a week" promises (as you'd know if you read my personal blog, which MAYBE gets updated once a month these days), but we can ACT like that will happen. Right? Right.

So. It's Memorial Day. And around here, that means one thing: Pasta Caprese. Well, actually, it means Music in the Park. Every Sunday (or Memorial Day Monday), our gang of four families, plus the occasional extra, heads to a local park, where we drink, eat, eat, drink, talk, laugh, eat, drink, and maybe listen to some music. Oh, and we bring the kids along so they can climb hills and play on the equipment, and sometimes we look up from our drinking and eating and talking and laughing to shoo them away again. (Don't look at me like that. I never said I'd win any parenting awards.)

But Music in the Park has come to mean, for me, Pasta Caprese. I try to make it, if not every Sunday, more Sundays than not. It's adapted from a Cook's Illustrated recipe, which suggests you eat it warm. But I like to make it mid-afternoon, then refrigerate it for the evening. Which means we eat it cold. I've yet to hear a single complaint. (Except from Baroy, who doesn't eat pasta. Don't. I know.)

Pasta Caprese (adapted from Cook's Illustrated's The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook, 2010)

For the marinade:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon crushed or minced fresh garlic
1/2 small onion, minced (the original recipe calls for a minced small shallot, which is totally yummy, too, but I grow onions in my backyard, so most of the summer I just pull one up and use that, rather than going out to buy shallots; your mileage may vary)
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 to 1-1/2 pounds ripe cherry tomatoes, cut in half (they suggest three large tomatoes, which you should then core, seed, and cut into 1/2-inch dice, but I like to do this the easy way; again, you can go your own way)

Then you'll need:
12 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes
1 pound penne, fusilli, or campanelle
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

1. Make the marinade by whisking the oil, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, garlic, onion, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. (By large, I mean the one you'll eventually dump a pound of cooked pasta into. THAT kind of large.) Add the tomatoes; toss to combine; set aside. (Cook's Illustrated says not to marinate for longer than 45 minutes, and I usually don't, but...I have no idea why. Anyone? What would happen in 45 minutes?)

2. While the tomatoes marinate, cook the pasta in 4 quarts salted water until al dente, then drain.

3. While the pasta is cooking, cut up the mozzarella, place it on a plate, and put it in the freezer until the cheese is slightly firm, about 10 minutes. (The point of doing this is so that when you add it to the still-hot or at least fairly-warm pasta, the cheese doesn't get too melty and stringy and clumpy and congeal on the bottom of the bowl. And it works really, REALLY well.)

4. Add the pasta and mozzarella to the tomato mixture and stir to combine. Let stand five minutes, then stir in basil and season with more salt and pepper as needed. (They also suggest that, if you want, you can add more lemon juice and/or a little sugar at this point if you want to make things interesting. I never do.)

5. They say to serve immediately, but as I said above, I then stick it in the fridge for a couple of hours before dragging it to the park, where it generally gets devoured. Which makes me happy. Very happy.