Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Easy Weeknight Dinner: Penne alla Insalata Caprese

I have a confession: Give me a few balls of well made mozzarella and I go weak at the knees and fall into greedy mess. Fresh mozzarella is my kryptonite.

A couple of days ago, we picked up some buffalo milk mozzarella from Costco - I'm discovering new cheeses everytime I head there. Who knew, Costco of all places! In summer, one of my favourite meals is the traditional caprese salad made up of fresh cherry tomatoes, balls of mozzarella and fresh basil. I usually eat that with some grilled ciabata and olive oil. But I thought that today, after having finished a final paper, I should kick back with a glass of Muscadet and enjoy the sunny weather with some Mediterranean flair.
This dish is inspired in part by the Caprese salad and by Jamie Oliver's 'Mothership Tomato Salad' found in his 'Jamie at Home' book. Unfortunately, we don't get enough sun in our yard to plant tomatoes, something which I hope to remedy by finding a south-facing yard the next time we move. In the meantime, I used store-bought organic cherry tomatoes, mozzarella di bufalo and the basil that came in the CSA for this really summery dish!

Pasta alla Insalata Caprese
Makes 4 servings

12 oz. whole grain penne
3 balls mozzarella di bufalo or regular cow's milk mozzarella (ovoline), cut into 1/2" cubes
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch fresh basil leaves (about 2 oz.), julienned
Fresh sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced finely (about 2 teaspoons)
1/4 tsp Chile pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper flakes (or to taste)

Toss the cherry tomatoes with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Set aside to drain in a colander over a small bowl for 15 minutes.

Cook the pasta according to directions until al dente, drain and run under cold water until it reaches room temperature. Combine with the cubed mozzarella and prepared tomatoes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing. Drizzle over the pasta, top with julienned basil leaves and season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine and serve with a dry white wine.

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