From America's Test Kitchen Season 8: Pasta and Tomatoes, Reimagined
The summer salad composed of creamy mozzarella, fresh basil, and sweet tomatoes has become so popular that we wanted to translate it to a simple-yet-elegant pasta dish, one in which the primary ingredients work in harmony with the pasta. Specifically, we wanted creamy pockets of milky mozzarella throughout the dish, rather than the chewy wads that can occur when cheese hits hot pasta. And we wanted to find a way to guarantee sweet tomato flavor, even when we were working with substandard tomatoes.
Supermarket mozzarella works well in this dish; the trick is to dice and freeze it for just 10 minutes before tossing it with the hot pasta. This extra step helps to keep the cheese soft and creamy (instead of dry and clumpy). Otherwise, handmade buffalo- or cow’s-milk mozzarella (minus the freezing step) works well. To boost the flavor of less-than-stellar tomatoes, we added a little sugar for sweetness and fresh lemon juice for brightness. Marinating the tomatoes and mozzarella with olive oil, minced shallot, a sprinkle of salt, and a few twists of black pepper while the pasta was cooking added even more flavor. We decided not to cut corners with a substandard olive oil—because there are few flavors in this dish, the fruity nuances of a good extra-virgin olive oil definitely make a difference.
Serves 4 to 6
This dish will be very warm, not hot. The success of this recipe depends on high-quality ingredients, including ripe, in-season tomatoes and a fruity olive oil (the test kitchen prefers Columela Extra-Virgin). Don’t skip the step of freezing the mozzarella, as freezing prevents it from turning chewy when it comes in contact with the hot pasta. If handmade buffalo- or cow’s-milk mozzarella is available (it’s commonly found in gourmet and cheese shops packed in water), we highly recommend using it, but skip the step of freezing and add it to the tomatoes while marinating. Additional lemon juice or up to 1 teaspoon sugar can be added at the end to taste, depending on the ripeness of the tomatoes.