Amanda & Merrill

Summer Pasta alla Caprese

June 22, 2010

Pasta Alla Caprese

- Merrill

My mother has always been great at "cooking by feel," and I owe her a lot of credit for any ability I possess in this domain. She has a knack for taking whatever is in the fridge or the pantry and throwing together a simple, delicious meal. I remember many a warm summer night when, motivated by a strong aversion to turning on the oven, my mother would whip up a quick pasta with a no-cook sauce. An oven burner was lighted for all of 15 minutes, and dinner was on the table.

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One of my favorite iterations was a variation on a popular theme: pasta with raw tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and sometimes basil. (In case you missed them, there have been countless versions of this pasta published since the 1970s, including this one from Nigella Lawson in the New York Times). My mother decided to forgo the garlic, instead marinating diced fresh tomatoes and roughly chopped basil in a sea of olive oil spiked with a glug of good balsamic vinegar. After the tomatoes luxuriated in this aromatic bath for an hour or two, she would cook up some sort of beautiful, artisanal, corkscrew-shaped pasta (the kind she used was long like spaghetti and made me think of the ringlets of a beautiful princess) and fold it into the tomato-basil-oil-vinegar concotion, sometimes with a handful of diced fresh mozzarella or Brie, sometimes not. This room temperature pasta -- almost a pasta salad, really -- along with a big green salad, made the perfect dinner for a balmy summer evening.

My version incorporates finely chopped red onion in place of the classic garlic, but otherwise it's true to my mother's original recipe.

Summer Pasta alla Caprese

Serves 4 as a main course

  • 3 medium red, ripe tomatoes
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 tablespoon good balsamic vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup loosely packed chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound curly pasta (I like cavatappi)
  • 1 medium ball fresh mozzarella

1.  A couple of hours before you plan to eat, core and roughly chop the tomatoes and tip them into a very large serving bowl. (You’ll be serving the pasta out of this very same bowl -- isn’t that great?) Add the chopped red onion, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, basil, a few healthy pinches of salt and several grinds of pepper. Gently stir these all together and let sit at room temperature for at least an hour so the flavors have a chance to meld.

2. Cook the pasta in a large pot of very salty water (as Amanda rightly says, it should taste like seawater) until al dente. Meanwhile, dice the mozzarella and add it to the big bowl of tomatoes, onion, basil, etc. 

3. When the pasta is done, drain it thoroughly and add it to the bowl. Gently fold everything together and taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if you’d like. Let the pasta sit for 5 minutes or so before serving, folding gently a couple of times to distribute the tomato juices and olive oil. Serve with a big green salad, or as an accompaniment to some nice, juicy grilled steaks.


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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Merryl June 30, 2010
Not quite sure where the name came from but my mom made a point of adding the extra "r" because she didn't want people to call me "Merle" (as in Haggard)
Merrill S. July 2, 2010
Sounds familiar!
AmandaJET June 28, 2010
Thank you so much for this recipe! I was going to wait until the farmers' markets started really rolling here in southern Indiana -- excellent tomatoes, for one, won't start arriving for another couple of weeks -- but I made a pantry version of it over the weekend with canned tomatoes, shallots and marjoram (my basil seems to have wandered off) and it was a great and super-easy light lunch for a very hot and busy weekend. I bet it will be even better with all-fresh ingredients.
Food52 June 28, 2010
Reminds me of Mario Batali's winter "Caprese" at Otto here in New York, which uses roasted tomatoes instead of fresh. Great idea!
Merryl June 27, 2010
I've been making this for years - I use angel hair pasta and crumbled feta - delish!
Food52 June 28, 2010
I'll have to try feta next time. I love the spelling of your name, by the way! How did you get the name Merryl? Mine's a family name.
Merrill S. June 28, 2010
Whoops! That was Merrill, not food52 replying to your comment!
aargersi June 23, 2010
Made this last night, used chevre because it's what I had, and added mint because it needed picking - absolutely delicious. I may never cook my tomatoes and onions again. Thanks!!!!
Food52 June 28, 2010
Rhonda35 June 22, 2010
When I was a teenager, I discovered a recipe similar to this in a popular magazine (could have been Seventeen or maybe Glamour!) I made it every week throughout the summer and my whole family loved it. It was back in the days before fresh herbs were widely available, so it really was something special to have all that fresh basil macerating with ripe tomatoes and good olive oil. It's supposed to be over 90 degrees here all week so this post is perfectly timed!
Loves F. June 22, 2010
This sounds like the perfect, light, low on the fat/dairy, easy on the stomach pre-half marathon dinner! Just what I was hoping to make to prep for the big race!
Merrill S. June 22, 2010
Wow. Hope it serves you well, and good luck!
CatherineTornow June 22, 2010
This looks like summer heaven in a bowl. I love it when you guys highlight simple goodness.
Merrill S. June 22, 2010
Well, thanks!
Teri June 22, 2010
I make a similar thing, except I replace the cheese with ceviche and use a smaller pasta so the scallops and fish don't get overwhelmed. Talk about no-cook satisfaction. Maybe I hear a contest theme coming up?
Merrill S. June 22, 2010
Sounds delicious!
Kitchen B. June 22, 2010
PS, when are we going to see Sara Shatz feature as 'chic' of the day - I am seriously seeking tips for dreamy photos so please include that in the Q & A. I enjoyed Martine's. Thanks . And I made the pasta salad but didn't post it....hmmm. Love the spoon too!
Merrill S. June 22, 2010
Isn't that spoon great? It's Amanda's, but I covet it. And point taken re: Sarah. She is highly deserving!
C_lynn June 25, 2010
Where can we pick up this spoon? I've checked the Food52 store, but it wasn't there.
Kitchen B. June 22, 2010
I made this last week during our mozzarella contest and it was heavenly. I called it caprese salsa....the freshness of the ingredients just takes the cake and you want to gently salt those tomatoes well ahead of time. Initially, the husband saw it, snickered and one forkful he was sold - in love, with it and me (I hope!)
Kelsey B. June 22, 2010
Yum, I LOVE this. I've been making Pamela Sherrid's Summer Pasta (clipped from Amanda's article) for a long time, I can't wait to try this version with balsamic and onion!
Merrill S. June 22, 2010
That one is a real winner!
lastnightsdinner June 22, 2010
A summertime favorite - you've got to love a meal so simple it practically makes itself!
Merrill S. June 22, 2010
My thoughts exactly.
aargersi June 22, 2010
Now I want this for dinner! Seymour has made eleventy billion more tomatoes, so my version willl be a yellow tomato one ... thanks for the idea! I haven't tried pre-marinating the tomatoes before!
Merrill S. June 22, 2010
Yum! I bet your version will be beautiful.
J-Dizzle June 22, 2010
The Pasta Alla Caprese recipe sounds wonderful summery and light....looking forward to trying it out this weekend! Thanks...
Merrill S. June 22, 2010
Thanks -- hope it comes out well!
katekirk June 22, 2010
There's no mozzarella in the ingredient list to dice in Step #2 :)

Merrill S. June 22, 2010
I like that idea! Sorry about the omission -- it's there now!