Here's a fresh alternative to sweating by the grill
Summer is the grilling time of year when the menu calls for something robust without the heaviness that can seduce you into a long winter’s nap. This dish offers the best of both seasons, where sturdy meets light thanks to a combination of pasta, cheese, fresh tomatoes and fresh basil.
Just a little imagination will let you customize this recipe to gratify personal preferences. As presented, it’s meatless. If you feel like grilling or even pan-frying, chicken and seafood are excellent complements. You can introduce a different character by using fresh oregano instead of basil, and fontina, provolone or caciocavallo—delicious Italian cheeses that melt nicely—can replace the mozzarella. Reducing the pungent taste of garlic is as easy as removing the garlic slices from the olive oil before adding the tomatoes.
I’m partial to fresh pasta, but it’s never mandatory. Almost any dried pasta of about the same weight will suffice, and you can choose a paste shape that suits your mood—round or flat, solid or hollow. The only caveat is that short-form pasta shapes like fusilli (corkscrews) and tubular shapes like rigatoni tend to hold more sauce, which isn’t plentiful in this recipe.
Maybe you’re thinking you don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen and that grilling is faster and easier. Not so with this dish. The prep work is easy to do ahead of time. It takes less than 30 minutes to wash and cut the tomatoes, peel and slice the garlic, cube the mozzarella and pick the basil leaves from their stems to prepare them for cutting. I even put the olive oil in the skillet and fill the pasta pot with water in advance and leave them on the stove until I’m ready to cook. There’s no marinating time or waiting for the grill to warm up.
If you’re burned out on the heat of the summer or don’t want your grilling task to be rained out, this pasta dish will keep you out of the elements without weighing you down.
Pasta with Grape Tomatoes, Basil and Mozzarella
3/4 cup olive oil
6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 pounds grape tomatoes, washed and halved
1 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces fresh linguini
1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 ounces fresh basil, washed and julienned or coarsely chopped
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add linguini and salt, and cook according to package directions. When pasta is done, pour it into a colander and allow it to drain well.
Warm olive oil in large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sauté until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add grape tomatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper to break down the tomatoes. Continue sautéing over medium-high heat and crush tomatoes with the back of a large spoon. Cook the tomatoes only until they start to break down, not allowing them to cook down to a sauce consistency.
Add cooked linguini to skillet and mix with tomatoes and garlic. Add mozzarella cubes and cook until cheese is melted and stringy. Stir in basil and cook for 1 minute.
Makes four generous servings, especially if salad or fresh Italian bread are served.