Tasting genuine mozzarella di bufala in Italy is a life changing experience. The cheese’s softness, its milky interior and its creamy yet somewhat strong flavor (it comes from buffalos after all) make it absolutely unique. It’s no secret that since I had my first taste in the heart of Tuscany, I’ve been an advocate. Don’t talk to me about common fresh mozzarella (made from cow’s milk). Its texture is rubbery and it lacks flavor. Maybe it’s snobbery on my part, but everyone who tastes my Caprese Salad is convinced.
Since one ball of fresh Italian mozzarella di bufala sells for $10 at my local grocery store it’s not something I buy every week. I usually buy it when it’s hot and sunny and when we crave a classic Caprese Salad with a glass of Chianti Classico. Sometimes, though, I also get some in the heart of winter when we want to remember summer. Winter may not the best time to buy fresh tomatoes but I find that the vine grown variety always has a great taste, even in January. (I know, ordinary fresh mozzarella is not acceptable, but greenhouse tomatoes in the heart of winter are. Go figure.)
Last week a ball of mozzarella sneaked into my cart but back home I realized I didn’t know what I would do with it. I wanted to find a new idea but the cheese’s texture is too precious for anything cooked and I kept coming back to a variation on the same old cold-salad theme. I searched for inspiration online and ended up on the Italian Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOC Association site. I managed to dust my basic Italian off and browsed through their recipes. I found that they make many pasta dishes in which the mozzarella is added last, so that it just warms up in the pasta.
I checked in the fridge: pesto? Check. Fresh basil? Check. Cherry tomatoes, pine nuts and rocket salad? Yes! So I decided to make my Caprese, pasta style.
The key is to prepare all of your ingredients in advance because it’s a very quick, put-together dish once the pasta is cooked. I diced and de-seeded the cherry tomatoes, sprinkled them with fleur de sel and black pepper; toasted the pine nuts, picked over and washed the basil leaves and took a handful of arugula leaves out. It’s best to wait till the very last minute to tear your mozzarella ball into pieces or you lose its delicious milk – you want it in your pasta!
The result was an absolutely fantastic warm (not hot) pasta dish that’s perfect for summer. The fresh flavors are incredibly reminiscent of the classic Caprese and fit the pasta perfectly. The cheese I mixed in with the pasta ended up softening a lot but not melting away, which I was very happy about. This is a recipe worth hunting down for the real mozzarella di bufala (it gets pretty easy to find, even Amazon.com sells it), although I figure it would also be a very fine pasta dish served with shaved parmigiano reggiano.
175-200 g dried linguine pasta (I like Barilla’s)
3 tablespoons pine nuts
8 cherry tomates, cut in quarters and deseeded
1 small bunch of fresh basil leaves
1 handful of rocket (arugula) leaves
1/4 to 1/3 cup green basil pesto
1 ball of fresh italian mozzarella di bufala (about 8 oz or 225 g) *
Extra-virgin olive oil, fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper to serve
Cook the pasta according to the packaging’s instructions. While your pasta’s cooking, toast your pine nuts (on a low heat and stay close because they burn really quickly), quarter and seed your cherry tomatoes. Sprinkle fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper on the tomatoes so that they start soaking the flavors. Drain your mozzarella out of its packaging.
Before the end of your pasta cooking time, scoop a bit of pasta water to dilute your pesto and make it easier to coat the pasta evenly. Drain your pasta in a colander. In the pot you used to cook your pasta, pour a couple tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Put the pasta back in the pot, and mix in the pesto, pine nuts, tomatoes and rocket leaves. Sprinkle in a good pinch of fleur de sel and some freshly ground black pepper. Tear half of the mozzarella ball into pieces and incorporate it to the pasta. Put the lid on your pot for a couple of minutes so that everything warms up.
When you’re ready to serve, tear the basil leaves over the pasta and divide it into two warm bowls. Tear the remaining mozzarella half equally over each bowl and serve. Heaven on a plate!
* Note: E and I are absolute mozzarella lovers so we divide one big ball of mozzarella between the two of us. I suppose one ball could serve up to 4 people but honestly, the more the better.