This simple Caprese Pasta salad with Pistachio Pesto is a luxurious meal you can enjoy at home or at the park: it perfectly encapsulates classic Italian flavors, in an easy-to-make, easy-to-enjoy package.
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Tasting mozzarella di bufala at an Agriturismo sitting at the top of a hill in breathtaking Tuscany, Italy was a life-changing experience for me. The cheese’s softness, its milky interior, and its creamy yet assertive flavor make it absolutely unique. Since I had a taste of Italian mozzarella di bufala, I admit I’ve snubbed “fresh mozzarella” products commonly sold at supermarkets. These types of fresh mozzarella cheeses are most often made with cow’s milk as opposed to buffalo’s milk, which means they always lack that unique, more assertive, “fresh from the farm” flavor. Moreover, the texture is quite firm and sometimes even rubbery, which is worlds apart from the extremely soft, barely-holding-together texture of Italian mozzarella di bufala.
Granted, 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 I crave a simple meal I can enjoy with fresh bread and a glass of wine.
I make a lot of classic Caprese salads, a simple combination of juicy tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and aromatic basil, dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, but several years ago, I started brainstorming ways I could turn the Caprese salad into a meal (and thus getting the excuse of enjoying more mozzarella di bufala.) This Caprese Pasta Salad came about over several improvisations. As with any salad I make, my goal was to combine creamy, juicy, and crunchy elements to give it a ton of texture, and of course, to pack flavors in as much as I could.
To make this Caprese Pasta Salad, I like to use colorful cherry tomatoes because their bite size allows them to perfectly combine with short pasta, but they also keep their shape better than a chopped tomato. To dress the pasta salad, I like to use a luxurious pistachio pesto, but any quality ready-made pesto will do. For the crunch element, I sprinkle the salad with roasted pistachios, but you could use chopped almonds too.
You can prepare this Caprese pasta salad several hours in advance, but I do recommend adding the torn mozzarella di bufala cheese just before serving. This type of cheese is so soft and milky that its texture just wouldn’t remain the same upon sitting for hours. Just before serving, drain the cheese, then coarsely tear it with your hands over the salad bowl (so the cheese’s milky juices get into the salad, too!). Give the salad a gentle toss, add one last generous drizzle of olive oil, and dig in!
One last (super important!) piece of advice: Make sure to always enjoy mozzarella di bufala at room temperature. The fridge is great to keep the cheese fresh, but the cold firms up the cheese and dulls its delicious flavor. Take the cheese out to room temperature at least an hour before serving. If you’re short on time, you can also do as an Italian taught me and put its container (or bag) in a warm water bath for 20-30 minutes to speed up the process.
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