Summer Pasta alla Caprese, Redux

August 29, 2012

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.

Summer Pasta alla Caprese

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.

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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.

Pasta with Tomatoes and Brie

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:

Brie Brie

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.

Tomatoes Basil

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.

Garlic Sauce

Toss the sauce with hot pasta, and you're all set!

Pasta with Tomatoes, Garlic, Basil and Brie

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)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Sarah Shatz and James Ransom.

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I'm a native New Yorker, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, former food writer/editor turned entrepreneur, mother of two, and unapologetic lover of cheese.


pulcinella #. September 5, 2012
My sister, Pulcinella #2, married an Italian and has lived in Firenze for the past 37 years. One summer, about 20 years ago, she introduced this recipe to us during a summer visit to Michigan. Only she used nice soft goat cheese instead of brie. She first tosses the hot pasta with creamy goat cheese (adding a little bit of pasta water to make it easier) before adding the fresh tomato sauce. If you're a fan of goat cheese, you'll love it!
lksugarman September 3, 2012
I've done this pasta dish over the years, too, usually slowly melting the garlic in olive oil, then adding chopped tomatoes and pasta to the oil mixture, lastly tossing the basil chiffonade in the still warm mixture, finished off with some grated Parmiggiano. But, as I was reading this article, I kept wondering about using Buratta instead. Can't help but think it would be a wonderful different kind of luscious. Hmmm....
Raphael K. September 3, 2012
Pasta is just sooooo delicous with a nice cheese like brie. That's nice one there!

Twinsx2mom September 2, 2012
Cook's Illustrated demo'd this recipe. They use mozarella, but with the same freezing technique. It is terrific!
Peggio September 2, 2012
This has been my "go to" pasta dish for years ... at home, potlucks, for friends and I always get asked for the recipe. It's so simple but complex tasting ... I have used other cheeses (parmesan or mozzarella) but the brie is the key according to my taste buds.
Galapagos September 2, 2012
That SP recipe was the first thing my husband cooked for me when he was wooing me, decades ago. It worked!
ctgal September 2, 2012
Thanks from me too. I've used that Silver Palate recipe for years, but with less oil too! What scared me was that the S.P. cookbook, along with the blue hardback New York Times cookbook, were my introduction to cooking in my 20's. If your mom used that cookbook
when you were young, does that mean I'm old enough to be your mother? Lol! Hope not. And thanks, Leslie, for the buratta idea! I have some in the refrigerator and have everything else too. Dinner tomorrow evening...with my daughter!
mmarsz September 2, 2012
I make something similar with linguine - tear the brie into smaller bits. I also add some feta - gives it another level of complexity. Haven't made it in awhile - thank you for the reminder of how yummy this dish is!
Leslie B. September 2, 2012
I live in the south of France, which has a very Italian history --- and the Nicoise cooks often use a variety of cheese for these types of dishes, including ricotta (preferably goat or sheep) mozarella --- which should always be TORN and not cut (who knew?) -- buratta and others fresh chevre (goat cheese) --- etc, these are soft cheese and aren;t cut, actually --- but they all work in different and lovely ways
Carol W. September 2, 2012
I've been doing this for years without the melty cheese -- sounds divine!

Hi All -- Last summer Food 52 had a waterbath canner in the shop that I have regretted not grabbing ever since. Could anyone please forward me the name/brand of the canner? I would be forever grateful -- have a truck-load of tomatoes, and some work to do!
ScottyD August 31, 2012
My father also cooked this recipe from the Silver Palate and it is to this day one of my all-time favorite pasta recipes. I do agree with cutting down on the olive oil and over the years have decided to add a little protein and serve it with some thin-cut grilled chicken breast on top. For some reason I've always cut the rind off the brie, but might have to forgo that step on your recommendation!
nmallory August 29, 2012
This is a wonderful recipe from Silver Palate, I made many times in the past. Thanks for reminding me about it!
Author Comment
Merrill S. August 30, 2012
You're welcome! So glad I finally remembered it myself!
Fairmount_market August 29, 2012
Sounds delicious! I wouldn't have thought of using brie this way. Thanks for the inspiration.