Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Orecchiette with Tomatoes and Mozzarella

Lunch

What you see in that picture there is my new favorite summer dish. It is a dish for those evenings when it's too hot to cook something really warm, but when, after weeks of hot weather, you're growing tired of eating only chilled or room-temperature foods. The pasta has a bit of warmth to it, which takes the chill off the cheese and makes it melt ever so slightly; it gives an illusion of warmth and heartiness without making you feel like you need to put a cool cloth to your forehead. At the same time, the tomatoes and herbs go in off the heat, so that what little cooking happens does so only with the leftover heat of the pasta. As a result, the flavors stay fresh and light in a way that's well suited to a summer afternoon or evening, but you also get just a hint of a rib-sticking feeling from the pasta and warm cheese.

This is also one of those dishes that's great for a weeknight, when you get home later than expected and just want to get something tasty on the table (and in your belly) without resorting to takeout. All of the prep can be done in the time between putting the water on to boil and taking it off to drain the pasta. The only dishes you'll dirty are a pot, a colander, a cutting board, and a knife, plus the bowl and fork you'll use to eat the pasta--you can even eliminate the bowl if you'd rather eat straight from the pot--so cleanup is quick.

Parsley and tomatoes

What's more, it's easy. You boil some water and cook some pasta; you cut up some cheese and tomatoes; and you chop some herbs (you could even do the herbs in a food processor if you aren't all that confident with a chef's knife). And when the pasta's done, you essentially throw it all together in the same pot you used to cook the pasta, with a touch of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice or vinegar. There's little or no measuring required (I've provided measurements as a guide, but pretty much everything should be "to taste"), nothing to burn, and really very little you can do to screw it up, short of forgetting about the pasta for half an hour and letting it cook into mushy oblivion. Of all the recipes I've posted in recent memory, this is probably the easiest and most satisfying, and the one I'd most recommend to trepidatious newbie cooks.

And right now, as the first tiny tomatoes are starting to appear at the market, is a great time to make this recipe part of your collection. Cherry, pear, or grape tomatoes; one color or many colors; it doesn't matter: they all taste great in this dish. You could substitute pieces of a larger tomato, and I'm sure that it would be good, but I think that there's something about the flavor of cherry tomatoes that really works well here and is refreshingly different from standard pasta + fresh tomato fare. Use whatever herbs you have available, and/or whatever you think would taste good. I've had success with parsley + basil and parsley + mint, and the original recipe calls for oregano and garlic chives (or regular chives). My version is below the fold.

Orecchiette with Tomatoes and Mozzarella

Serves 4 generously

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces orecchiette pasta (roughly 3 cups uncooked)
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, either pea-sized perlini or cut to the size of fresh peas
  • 1 pound grape, cherry, or pear tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh herbs (e.g. basil, parsley, oregano, chives...)

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and salt it generously. Cook the pasta until it is tender but firm, stirring now and then to ensure that the pasta does not stick together.
  2. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
  3. Add the mozzarella to the hot pasta. Stir until the cheese softens and starts to melt, about 30 seconds.
  4. Add all remaining ingredients, and toss gently to distribute herbs evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.

Lunch: almost gone

4 comments:

katie schoe. said...

want.

Bee said...

I make this a lot in the summer -- although I tend to use fusilli, and add a generous tablespoon of capers. You have inspired me to get more adventurous with the tomato varieties, though.

Anne said...

Good idea with the capers. I'm sort of "meh" on them so I never think to add them, but if you like them I bet it would be good!

What variety of tomato do you usually use?

Megan said...

I do this all the time in the summer too. I've never added lemon juice or vinegar though... I bet that would kick it up.