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When in Rome...

Passport & Plate - Pasta Caprese

Italy | Saturday, 7 March 2015 | 2 photos

6 medium tomatoes (to be diced) - different kinds of heirlooms if possible!
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 lbs. whole wheat penne
1/2 lbs. of fresh mozzarella cheese, diced the same size as tomatoes
20 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips plus 5-6 basil sprigs for garnish, if desired


How to prepare this recipe
1) Seed the tomatoes, then dice them (1/4 - 1/2" dice) - when complete, place them in a large bowl
2) Mince the garlic - place in the bowl with the tomatoes
3) Add the salt and pepper to taste, olive oil and balsamic vinegar - set aside the mixture for at least 20 minutes so the flavors meld
4) Put the water for the pasta on to boil - once it's at a rolling boil, add the pasta to cook per package directions. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and run cold water over it immediately until the pasta is warm - not hot.
5) Meanwhile, dice the fresh mozzarella - be sure to dice to the same size as the tomatoes - after the flavors have finished melding per instructions above, add cheese to the bowl
6) Cut the basil leaves into thin strips, add to the bowl; stir all ingredients together.
7) Add the cooked, warm pasta to the bowl. Give it another few stirs so all ingredients are evenly distributed.
8) Garnish with any extra basil sprigs, if desired. Enjoy!

Serves 4 as a main, 6 as a side or starter


The story behind this recipe
In 2005, my then-boyfriend surprised me with a trip to Italy for Valentine's Day. A weeklong vacation in Rome with all of its history, delicious food and wine - what could be more romantic? I was thrilled. The icing on the cake came in the form of a diamond ring a few hours after we arrived; he proposed to me on the balcony of our hotel as the sun set. I said yes, of course.
For the next 9 days we enjoyed the city, the sights, our newly engaged status and simply being together. We ate our way around town as we visited the attractions, enjoying the pasta and ordering tomatoes and fresh mozzarella at every lunch. In the evenings we ordered pizza with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil. One of my favorite parts of the trip was watching my now-husband thoroughly enjoy every meal we ate, since he was a VERY picky eater when we first met.
I decided to show my appreciation by bringing a bit of Italy home with us. Pretty much everything he'd ordered involved tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, so I wanted to recreate that taste for him. After researching a bunch of different dishes online, I decided to make him Pasta Caprese. After researching a few different recipes, I created my own from melding elements of a few of them - which is how I like to cook. He loved what I came up with, and it is still one of his top 3 favorite dishes. Thankfully, he's not nearly as picky anymore.
I love the origin of this dish - it came from one of the most special and happy times of my life. But the thing I love most about this dish is that it has grown with us. I serve on the Board of a community organic farm in our town, and we wait with bated breath for the tomatoes and basil to come into season every year, just so we can make this recipe; highlighting the ingredients in all their glory. And the two children we now have love it just as much as we do. It's a dish that's evolved with us and become part of our family history. It's amazing how powerful food can be.

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