Reader, if you read our last recipe, you will know that I am gearing up for a Tomato Girl Summer. I don't have enough time to explore what that is with you right now, but the point is this: there are many, many tomatoes in my kitchen.
Fortunately, I enjoy tomatoes in all their forms. Sliced, salted, and peppered in a sandwich, grated with some finely chopped parsley on some pan con tomate, roasted until they split in a creamy risotto, slow-cooked and blended into a velvety soup – there's no end to the ways in which a person can (and should) enjoy the humble tomato.
If the Italians taught us anything, however, it's that tomatoes are extremely well-complimented with mozzarella cheese and basil. That's why the Italian flag is white, green, and red. I'm just kidding. I don't know why the Italian flag consists of those three colours, but it's a strong guess.
There isn't really a simpler or more effective demonstration of this fine combination than in the classic Caprese salad. However, a Caprese salad is a starter, not a main course. So, to bulk up the meal and make it more satiating, I turned it into a pasta dish. That's the magic of cooking, baby.
What you'll need from the shops
Rosa or cherry tomatoes
Bocconcini, fior di latte, or regular mozzarella
Pasta of choice
Panko bread crumbs (trust me)
How to make Caprese pasta
Step One: Roast your tomatoes
Chuck your whole tomatoes into a roasting pan with a few peeled cloves of garlic. Drizzle generously with olive oil and pop them into a preheated oven at about 180 degrees Celcius. Roast them long and slow for about 30-45 minutes, depending on how many tomatoes are in the pan. Once they've split open and are caramelising in the hot oil, you can take them out.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again – if you aren't decanting your oils into squeezy bottles, you are doing yourself a disservice. The first step to becoming a more skilled home cook is pretending that you are a professional. Now, repeat after me – "Yes, chef!"
Step Two: Make your pasta and your sauce
Set a pot of salted water on the boil for your pasta. While that's happening, take your roasted tomatoes and garlic out of the oven and tip them onto a board. Once cooled, chop it all into a very rough and rustic garlicky tomato sauce. Season with salt to taste.
Step Four: Panko bread crumb time
While your pasta is cooking away according to packet instructions, set another pan on the stove and turn the knob to medium heat. Coat the pan with oil. Once that's hot, toss in some panko bread crumbs and stir them around with some salt and pepper until they turn golden brown. Don't take your eyes off of them – they can burn in a flash.
Remember that the crumbs will keep cooking on the warm pan even when you take it off the heat, so keep that in mind when guaging how brown your crumbs are looking. The end result should look something like this:
Panko crumbs are my latest hack to making pasta more exciting. It's a great way to convince yourself to keep eating leftovers. Who doesn't love crispy, fried carbohydrates?
Step Five: Stir it all together
Right, your pasta should be done round about now. Reserve a cup of pasta water. Drain the pasta, dump it back into the pot, then combine your cooked pasta, roasted tomato sauce, basil pesto, and a splash of pasta water to loosen things up a little. You may need to put things back on the heat for about five minutes to bring it up to the same temperature.
Step Six: Plate and serve!
Make a little nest of pasta on the plate. You can achieve this by grabbing a hunk of spaghetti or linguine with a pair of tongs, plating it and, without releasing your grip on the tongs, twirling it in a clockwise direction with the same motion that you would use to curl a section of hair with a straightener. Once you've achieved the nest effect, gently release the tongs from the middle of the nest.
Finally, top the saucy pasta with a generous sprinkle of fried panko breadcrumbs, your mozzarella cheese of choice, and a pinch of flaky salt.
If you're using bocconcini, these make for delightful little eggs in the pasta nest.
And there you have it! Caprese pasta. Enjoy.