Okay, okay, maybe this is a little cute, but I am in love with putting bocconcini on top of pasta in place of meatballs. Bocconcini, or baby mozzarella, in general, has always made me crazy-happy, especially when it’s fresh. I like that springy mouthfeel, and I love how the mild taste plays off tomatoes and basil.
Last August, my old landlord taught me to make uncooked tomato sauce, using raw garlic, chopped basil, and warm-from-the-garden tomatoes. He said it was the perfect summer food to make for company, because you don’t have to heat up the kitchen (except to boil the pasta), and the sauce only gets better if you let it sit covered on your counter for an hour or so.
Now, it’s September, and I’m pulling in the last of the heirlooms – Cherokee purples, green zebras, and oodles of romas. All I want to do is savor these last glorious toms before I succumb to store-bought varieties with their tough skins and mealy centers. It’s a perfect week to throw a dinner party in honor of tomatoes, and what better cheese to serve alongside than mozzarella?
Bocconcini (“little mouthfuls”), come in tubs of whey and water, and they’re available at most groceries. If you can find a cheesemaker who makes fresh mozzarella, that’s even better. The sooner you eat fresh mozz, the better it tastes. If you want to impress your friends, roll the bocconcini in fresh pesto before you toss the balls on top of your pasta dinner. Even unadorned though, they taste like goodness itself.
PASTA WITH BABY MOZZARELLA
3 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup chopped fresh garlic, more if you feel zesty
8-10 tomatoes, romas or a combo
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
12 baby mozzarella balls
Fresh spaghetti or linguini
Chop your toms and throw them in a big clay bowl with garlic and basil. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pep, and stir with a wooden spoon. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let sit for 1-3 hours so the flavors meld. Boil your pasta, rinse it with cold water (so that you don’t put too much heat on the tomato mixture), and mix it into the sauce. Plate it, top each plate with 3 fresh mozzarella balls, and add a grind of black pepper. If this doesn’t make you weep, something’s wrong. If your friends aren’t completely smitten, ignore them until winter.
Serve with red wine, a crusty baguette, and some Astor Piazolla playing in the background. SERVES 4.