Fourth of July

Summer Pasta alla Caprese

June 23, 2010
3 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 4 as a main course
Author Notes

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

What You'll Need
  • 3 medium red, ripe tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 tablespoon good balsamic vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Vivienne
  • msmely
  • sally nardo
    sally nardo
  • JadeTree
  • CheeseLovah

17 Reviews

Genevieve L. August 11, 2022
Total winner! Look forward to making this every august!
Merrill S. August 11, 2022
Thanks Genevieve, and so glad you’re enjoying this recipe! I’ll be making it next week with NJ beefsteak tomatoes, which are especially good this year!
Vivienne August 11, 2018
Great basic recipe that can alone or accommodate meat and seafood add ons. Can never go wrong with pasta and anything "capresed."
PHIL July 15, 2016
My Mom, and now my wife have been making a very similar version also. I think it cam from some 80s magazine, maybe Good Food. Easy and everyone likes it. The original version i remember was with tortellini but we use farfalle also
MB M. June 7, 2016
Made this last night - used cherry tomatoes and garlic - and it was good, but it was even better today for lunch. Couldn't stop eating it!
msmely August 1, 2015
This is a great recipe and so very versatile. It's delicious even with dried basil (use about a tablespoon.) I had some burrata I used instead of the mozzarella, which distributed itself beautifully throughout the sauce. I also swapped back in the garlic for the red onion, because I love garlic!

I added the hot pasta to the cold ingredients and let it sit, gave it a stir after 5 minutes, and another stir after 10. It warmed everything throughout to a perfect temperature and the occasional reminder of melty mozzarella strings was delicious.
sally N. June 9, 2015
Can the recipe be made ahead of time?
msmely August 2, 2015
The tomatoes release their juices which mixes with the olive oil and balsamic, and this creates a beautiful sauce. After sitting in the fridge, the pasta and cheese would tend to absorb this sauce, and I'm personally not a fan of how fresh tomatoes break down in acidic environments. That said, it isn't disagreeable after a day in the fridge, so it isn't as if the leftovers are inedible, but it is definitely best fresh.
sally N. August 2, 2015
Thank You, :)
JadeTree April 17, 2015
The annual rediscovery of this perfect recipe! This year: mid-April for the first time of the year. Eventually, we'll have years of climate data based on my annual homage. As always - thanks for sharing this gem.
Mickey0627 July 31, 2014
Just made this to go with grilled flank steak. SO GOOD!!! I used heirloom tomatoes from a local farm and fresh mozzarella. Yummy!
JadeTree April 18, 2014
This year, I'm making this juicy, delicious dish in April. Maybe we can track climate change based on when my yearly appreciation falls? Thanks, as always, for a family warm-weather favorite!
JadeTree July 4, 2013
The last few years I get to the end of June - and remember this pasta. Perfect blend of ease and deliciousness. Also, it's quite good for toddlers since they can pick and choose which kind of bite they want each time! I predict Clara might be a fan of this one :)
jellewagen July 8, 2012
Try sun dried tomatoes! Simply amazing.
Mianna July 1, 2012
The best taste of summer - always fun to get creative with colors and varieties of tomatoes. Good with smoked mozzarella also.
CheeseLovah July 29, 2011
Can you marinate the tomato mixture overnight?
ashleychow89 October 24, 2010
Delightfully simple and delicious dish that does a good balsamic vinegar justice.