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. 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. 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). 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. —Merrill Stubbs
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.
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.
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.