June 29, 2010

Caprese Pasta Salad When It’s Too Hot to Cook {Naptime Everyday}

What’s Going on Today: Heatwave continues: slow stroll to morning Farmer’s Market, quick stop at Arts and Crafts show on town green.
Naptime Goals: Set garlic, olive oil and basil to marinate for salad. Pre-chop mozzarella and tomatoes.
Tonight’s Menu: BBQ chicken, Caprese Pasta Salad, Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies.
Parenting Lesson of the Day: I love whomever invented the concept of sidewalk chalk.

It’s been wayyyy too hot hot hot to turn on the oven this week. During summer days like this I don’t steer clear of cooking altogether, I just choose dishes that don’t require long hours cooking with high heat. After all, years of experience have taught me that there will be plenty of days in January when I am layering on wool socks and braising short ribs while freezing containers of ragu! On Saturday we were having our neighbors over for dinner and I decided to make my favorite caprese pasta salad. A delicious simple salad that is almost a complete no-cook affair, it is packed with a fresh summer flavor that can’t be beat.

I first read this recipe years ago in the The New York Times and have been making it ever since. I’ve always been a fan of the traditional caprese salad (who isn’t?) and it seemed only right and natural that pasta be added to give it more heft, transforming it from an appetizer to a side dish or main course. I’ve served it as both. My only tip for you is to make sure you squirrel away a bowl or two for lunch the next day before you present the dish to your guests, there won’t be any left by the end of the meal.

The only heavy duty cooking required to make this salad is boiling the rigatoni at the end. Otherwise, the rest of the assembly can be accomplished at the lazy pace I generally prefer for summer cooking. I started assembling the salad at naptime by setting the garlic, olive oil and basil in a big bowl to marinate while I pre-chopped my mozzarella and tomatoes for later. Then I spent the rest of naptime setting the chicken in the marinade and working at my computer. After my daughter woke up she helped me dump the tomatoes into the bowl and give it another stir. I then abandoned the project for a second time, opting for a (sweltering) trip to the playground. All that was required that evening was boiling the pasta, tossing it with the garlic olive oil, cheese and tomatoes and the salad was ready. Paired with the grilled chicken, a citrusy green salad and some amazing strawberry margheritas (brought by my awesome neighbor) we all managed to enjoy a terrific, and cool, dinner on a hot summer night.

Recipe

Caprese Pasta Salad

adapted from The New York Times 2007

Ingredients

5 large cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
½ c. good quality olive oil
10-12 fresh basil leaves
6 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 lb. fresh mozzarella, cubed
1 lb. rigatoni or penne

Instructions

1. Mix together the garlic, olive oil and basil leaves in a large bowl. Set aside and allow to marinate for up to several hours.
2. Two hours before serving stir the tomatoes into the marinade. Leave on the counter for later.
3. Right before serving, boil the rigatoni in salted water according to package directions. Drain the pasta and immediately add to the bowl with the tomato mixture. Scatter the mozzarella on top of the pasta and toss first so that the mozzarella melts a little and coats the pasta. Then, stir up the tomato and olive oil mixture from the bottom and toss well. Add a pinch or two of Kosher salt to taste. Serve.

Naptime Notes

Naptime Recipe Serving ideas

This salad tastes best when made with the freshest possible tomatoes you can find. If you want more spice and heat try adding a few cranks of cracked pepper to give it a boost.

Naptime Stopwatch

This salad takes approximately 20 minutes to make in total. This time is spread out over the course of an entire afternoon.

Naptime Reviews

This is a crowd pleaser and my daughter likes it, too. Always serve extra bread for sopping up the sauce.