During the summertime, tomatoes are everywhere and at the peak of freshness, so take advantage of the bounty! This week at the farmers market there were a few different varieties of tomatoes, including Beefsteak, Ugli (an heirloom variety), and cherry tomatoes-both red and yellow. Naturally, I had to get some of each.
Not only do I love summer tomatoes, fresh off the vine, I especially love the fragrance that lingers on your fingers after picking a tomato off the vine. I think if colors had a scent, this is what green would smell like. Spring green-- not Kelly green or hunter green. A light green with lots of yellow. Like the line in that poem "nature's first green is gold". That is the smell you're left with after picking a fresh tomato.
I love a classic Caprese salad (tomatoes, mozzarella, basil,) --- red, white and green, the colors of the Italian flag. I decided to use these same flavors to make a summery pasta salad, which I served alongside grilled flank steak. By using both red and yellow tomatoes, cubed fresh mozzarella, and a basil pesto vinaigrette, I pay homage to the original, but give it a new twist. Any pasta shape will do, but I like the mini penne, or "pennette" for this dish. You could also use mini rigatoni, shells, or orechette. I like to match the shape and size of the pasta to the other ingredients in the salad. Since for this dish I'm using cherry-tomatoes and cubed mozzarella, I favor a short, shaped pasta as opposed to a long strand pasta. It just seems to work better---and aesthetically, looks more appealing.
The pesto can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the fridge, or even frozen for a longer period of time. The tomatoes should be fresh-and never refrigerated. It kills the fresh taste. As for the mozzarella...be sure to use fresh, not the rubbery kind found in the dairy section of the grocery store. Buffalo mozzarella has the fullest flavor, but other varieties are perfectly okay if you can't find buffalo. Just look for the kind that comes in the plastic container surrounded by water. The texture is softer and has more moisture, and the taste is incredible. The rubbery stuff is great for grating, but when cubing, look for the fresh variety.
Caprese Pasta Salad
1 lb. pasta (mini penne or rigatoni, shells, orechetti)
1 bunch basil
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 pint cherry tomatoes (red, yellow, or a combination), halved
6-8 oz fresh mozzarella, cubed
Set a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and stir. Set aside and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, place garlic and pine nuts in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse a few times until finely chopped.
Add basil and pulse again until finely chopped.
With blades running, add olive oil in a steady stream, until a sauce-like consistency is created.
Stir in salt, pepper, and vinegar. Add a 1-2 extra tablespoons of olive oil, stir, and set aside.
Place pasta in a large bowl and add pesto vinaigrette. Mix to combine. Add tomatoes and mozzarella cubes, and gently stir again until everything is incorporated. Serve at room temperature.