Saturday, January 3, 2009

Flexible Pasta with Stewed Tomatoes, Basil and Fresh Mozarella

Of all the things I make, I think this is Kris' favorite. And maybe mine too. It is so satisfying and comforting but you don't get that comfort food hangover after eating it like you would a pasta with cream sauce or say...a bacon cheeseburger.

And a the name says, it's very flexible. You can use spinach or arugula instead of basil, walnuts instead of pine nuts or skip adding nuts all together, or parmesan cheese instead of cubed fresh mozzarella, though you won't get the fun of stretching out the warm cheese and wrapping it around your fork.

I've made it skipping the step of sauteeing the stewed tomatoes and just dumping them in as well as skipping the garlic when I've been out, and it's still divine.

Natalie - this reminds me of the pasta we used to get at Romeo's in know when we were exhausted from studying so hard...

Pasta with Stewed Tomatoes, Basil and Fresh Mozzarella
Serves 5-6.

3/4 pound of bowtie pasta (you can use any kind)
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry
1 (28 oz) can stewed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano or Muir Glen), drained, plus 1/4 cup of the tomato juice from the can
3 fat garlic cloves, smashed with the back of your knife
1 small ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
zest of one small lemon
Olive oil (1-2 tablespoons)
salt and pepper

Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Get out another pan - a large, rimmed one that can fit all of the pasta and sauce later - dump in the stewed tomatoes and garlic cloves and bring up to low-medium heat. Season with salt and pepper and let come to a gentle simmer, stirring now and then to keep bottom from burning. Ideally you want to simmer the tomatoes and garlic for 8-10 minutes so that the garlic gently infuses the sauce, but again, it's up to how much time and effort you're up to at that particular moment.

When your pasta water has come to a boil, stir in 2 handfuls of kosher or sea salt, then the pasta. Cook 7-8 minutes just until al dente. Before transferring, fish the garlic cloves out of your tomatoes and throw away. Then using a spider or slotted spoon, strain and add the pasta to your tomatoes, along with a couple of tablespoons olive oil and another pinch of salt. Stir in your lemon zest, basil, mozzarella and pine nuts.

Serve warm.

I use lemon zest when I'm craving something bright and fresh. But you can grate in some fresh nutmeg into the simmering tomatoes before you add the basil an earthy, comforting scent, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes for a little kick, or knock yourself out and try all three.

I like the texture of whole, peeled tomatoes, but you'll need to break them down a little. I find the easiest way to do this is to give them a few snips with kitchen shears just before I add them to the pan (while they're in the strainer.) You could always use your wooden spoon to 'mash' them a little once they're in the pan, but you risk a closet full of tomato-Pollacked shirts.

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