Published July 1, 2007.
This summer dish combines ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fragrant basil with hot pasta. Preventing the cheese from turning into bubble gum presented a gooey problem.
The tomatoes, pasta, and basil in this simple recipe didn't pose many challenges, at least compared to the cheese. In every recipe we tried, the cheese clumped into an intractable softball-sized wad in the bottom of the pasta bowl. These tangles of mozzarella bubble gum were difficult to chew, much less swallow.
We needed to keep the mozzarella likable and tender throughout our cooking—and eating—process.
Fresh mozzarella from the supermarket was a non-starter, as was regular block-style mozzarella. Two special versions—buffalo-milk mozzarella from a specialty cheese shop and handmade cow's-milk mozzarella—did work, but we wanted something less expensive and more readily available. We found the solution in the freezer. Dicing supermarket cheese and placing it in the freezer for a few minutes before combining it with the hot pasta allowed the cheese to soften but kept it from fully melting (and turning chewy) during cooking. The rest of the recipe simply required fine-tuning. A little sugar sprinkled on less-than-perfectly-ripe tomatoes added missing sweetness, while a squirt of fresh lemon juice boosted flavor. Marinating the tomatoes and mozzarella in olive oil, minced shallot, a sprinkle of salt, and a few twists of black pepper while the pasta was cooking added even more flavor. Finally, we needed to choose the correct pasta. Short tubular or curly pastas (such as penne, fusilli, and campanelle) trapped the chunky sauce in their nooks and crannies and thus proved better choices than the traditional spaghetti.list of recipes