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When I wrote about my mother's Summer Pasta alla Caprese (below) a couple years ago, I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that something wasn't quite right. I'd been making the pasta -- raw garlic or onion, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, fresh mozzarella -- the same way for years. But once I'd documented it in writing as a childhood favorite, something my mother used to make several times a summer, I realized that somehow my taste memory was out of whack.
It was a month or so ago that I finally put the pieces together. My mother didn't actually use mozzarella -- she used Brie! Like many of us scarred by the chalky, leaden wedges that made an appearance at pretty much every event in the late 80s and early 90s, I'd apparently blocked all memories of this once chic, now much maligned cheese. I had mentally banished it to the recesses of culinary obscurity, and no wonder. Thus it happened that a pasta which was originally introduced to me as slightly creamy and complex, with a pleasant, bitter edge from the cheese, morphed in my mind over the years into a more predictable version of itself: comforting indeed, studded with chewy bits of melting mozzarella, but far less seductive.
The truth -- though many of us would likely be slow to admit it -- is that Brie, when it's good, is very very good. A fine Brie is just as delicious at room temperature smeared on crusty bread as it is warm, oozing out of flaky pastry. And it's REALLY good folded into a fresh tomatoey, garlicky sauce for pasta. No one understood this better than Julee Rosso and the late Sheila Lukins, creators of the beloved Silver Palate series, from whom my mother got her inspiration for our family favorite.
Today I'm sharing the Stubbs rendition, which uses less olive oil (Rosso and Lukins' version calls for 1 whole cup for just 1 1/2 pounds of pasta!) and slightly less garlic and basil, but plenty of tomatoes and Brie with the rind on, which I believe is key to the endeavor. I highly recommend you cast aside any residual anti-Brie sentiments and give this one a shot before tomatoes disappear for the year. You won't regret it.
Making this room temperature pasta is dead simple:
If your Brie is good and soft (I like using a triple cream version), put it in the feezer to firm up before cubing it -- I found that did the trick nicely.
Once the cheese is cubed, you just chop tomatoes, basil and garlic, then add salt and pepper and a few glugs of olive oil and let it sit for a few hours.
Toss the sauce with hot pasta, and you're all set!
Adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook
Serves 6 as a main course
- 3/4 pound Brie (triple cream if you can get it)
- 4 medium ripe-as-can-be tomatoes
- 2 medium cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves, cleaned and dried
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons excellent olive oil
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 pound curly pasta (I like cavatappi)
Photos by Sarah Shatz and James Ransom.