It’s the end of summer – a glorious summer full of grilling and sand and cheese and a Vermont lake. I’m sad to see it go, but my favorite season is around the corner, so I can’t complain. Before I start eating everything pumpkin, apple cider, and maple syrup though (seriously, I’m already planning all of that out – Happy Not Even Fall Yet y’all!), I thought I’d bid the summer of 2014 adieu by making a big bowl of summer pasta for some friends.
I love pasta – it’s flexible, it works for every season, it’s cheap. You can dress it up. You can dress it down. It’s delicious. I love it so much, I organized a pasta crawl through Brooklyn last weekend. The love for carbs runs deep, folks.
My mother makes a wonderful pasta dish that she adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook, and it embodies the fresh and simple aspects of summer. The original recipe calls for marinating brie, tomatoes, and basil in olive oil and garlic for hours before combining it with hot pasta. “Sounds pretty good,” you say. “How do you top that,” you ask? Let me tell you how – SWITCH THE BRIE FOR FRESH MOZZARELLA AND ADD SOME PROSCIUTTO, THAT’S HOW. It is so simple, but so decadent. Moms really do know best, don’t they?
The best part of this dish is how the hot pasta melts the fresh mozzarella into tasty globs of perfection, swirling in a shallow pool of basil-y olive oil. This is summer comfort food, right here.
As much as I love this dish, I’ve never made it myself until now. (Thanks for letting me live with you for two years after college and still cooking and cleaning for me until I stopped being a bum and finally moved out, Mom and Dad!!!) After my first attempt, there are a few tweaks I would make. If you are actually reading this baby blog and decide to actually make this (oh my gosh, thank you), here are a few tips for you to try:
- If at all possible, use fresh mozzarella. When you’re a 20-something living in Brooklyn and you decide to make this on a Friday night after work, you’re not going to track down freshly stretched and kneaded mozzarella. You lack foresight, motivation, and usually the funds to really go for it. You’re going to buy that “fresh” mozzarella that has been sitting in a little plastic pouch in the grocery store for 11 days. It’ll do the trick, but there’s nothing like truly fresh mozzarella that’s still warm and salty from the farmer’s market. That stuff will melt into the pasta like it’s falling into a lover’s arms.
- Definitely let the marinade sit for 2 hours. In fact, if you can, let it sit all afternoon. Chop those ingredients up in the morning and just let them sit and chill and vibe together all day long. You want those flavors to become a tight-knit group of friends who are eagerly awaiting a reunion with their old friend, Mr. Penne.
- This pasta is casual and rustic enough that if you wanted to, you could tear almost all of the ingredients instead of chopping them. Maybe you’ve just spent all day catching rays at the beach and you can’t be bothered with the formality of a knife and cutting board. The choice is yours – you just do you.
- Tomatoes – here’s the thing. I don’t like them. That’s right, I don’t like tomatoes. However, to appease my tomato-loving friends, I kept them in. From a purely preparatory point of view, next time I might just use cherry or grape tomatoes instead of vine tomatoes. Cut ‘em in half and toss ‘em in. Boom. Otherwise, experiment! I feel like there is some unlocked potential in using roasted or sundried tomatoes, if you’re into that kinda thing.
- And finally, as with all pastas – save a little bit of that starchy cooking water to add to the final dish! It helps bind the sauce (or in this case, a sort of marinade) to the pasta. A third of a cup is more than enough for a dish like this.
So there you have it – my favorite summer pasta, my first blog post, and the beginning of a new season. How stinkin’ poetic is that?
Penne with Mozzarella, Prosciutto, and Tomato
Serves: 6 people
3 ripe large tomatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 pound fresh mozzarella, torn or chopped
1 cup clean fresh basil leaves, torn or cut in a chiffonade
8 ounces of prosciutto, torn
3 garlic large cloves, peeled and finely minced
¾ cup olive oil (a full cup if you really want)
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ pounds penne pasta (or whatever you prefer)
- Combine the tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, prosciutto, garlic, olive oil, ½ teaspoon of salt, and the pepper into a large serving bowl. Prepare at least 2 hours before serving and set aside, covered, at room temperature.
- Bring a pot of water (about 6 quarts or a large pot ¾ full) to a rolling boil. Add about 3 teaspoons once it’s boiling. This flavors the pasta, so don’t skimp. Add your pasta and follow package instructions. It usually takes about 8 minutes for most pasta to cook until al dente.
- Once the pasta is finished cooking, drain in a colander and immediately toss with the marinade.
- Serve, maybe with freshly ground pepper and Parmesan, and enjoy!