A Super Summery Pasta

I am obsessed with roasted red peppers at the moment. I have been preparing them by the half dozen and using them all week chopped up in salads or left whole in sandwiches or laid atop a bagel with cream cheese. They are so delicious.

There are no roasted red peppers in this pasta dish, however. But I did discover a revolutionary way to use all of those lovely juices generated by roasting peppers. More on that later.

As for this pasta dish, it’s another one I learned while working at that Philadelphia restaurant. As soon as the Branch Creek cherry tomatoes — the sweetest, most flavorful cherry tomatoes I had ever tasted — arrived each summer, this dish would appear as a first course on the menu. And it was a huge hit, a perfect start to a summer dinner.

It’s simple to prepare: Sauté cherry tomatoes with orecchiette, ciliegene mozzarella and basil pesto. Add some fresh basil just before plating along with some shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh cracked pepper. Yum yum yum. Toasted pine nuts, I think, would make a nice addition to this pasta as well.

So, I normally avoid buying jarred sauces, tapenades, pestos, etc. but I have an amazing Italian deli in my town that sells enormous jars of delectable pesto at a very reasonable price. It’s hard to pass up and makes for very easy preparations. So, if you have a good local source for pesto, by all means use it in this dish — everything else will take minutes to prepare.

Now, onto my revolutionary discovery regarding roasted red pepper juices. First of all, I cannot believe I have been discarding those juices all these years. I mean, I have always stored my peppers in their juices in a bowl in the fridge but once the last pepper has been consumed, those juices go down the drain. I had never before thought to drizzle them over pasta for added flavor or to reheat them with last night’s pasta, as I did yesterday with this very dish, which was extremely delicious.

Oh it pains me to think about! What a waste. Am I the last person on the planet to have discovered this? Have all of you been creatively and resourcefully using your roasted red pepper juices all these years? If so, pray tell how.

I am anxious to try the recipe here with roasted red peppers substituted for the tomatoes, goat cheese for the mozzarella, and red pepper juices for the pesto … ooooh, I think another super summery pasta dish is in the works.

Orecchiette with Cherry Tomatoes, Mozzarella & Basil Pesto

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 generously as an entrée

1/2 lb. orecchiette pasta
kosher salt
2 T. olive oil
1/2 lb. cherry tomatoes, halved (I used more like 9oz., and you could probably use even more)
2 T. basil pesto
1/2 lb. ciliegene (small balls) mozzarella*
fresh basil**
shaving of Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)
fresh cracked black pepper

* Goat cheese would be a nice substitute.
** If you have small tender leaves, leave them whole; otherwise, chiffonade the basil
*** Toasted pine nuts or walnuts would make a nice addition to this pasta as well.

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a pinch of kosher salt. Add pasta and cook till al dente, about 9 minutes. (Package instructions said 11 minutes but the pasta will continue cooking as its tossed with the other ingredients so it’s best to undercook it a little bit.) Drain pasta. Do not rinse.

2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook for 30 seconds. Add pasta and pesto. Cook 1 minute, stirring to coat pasta with the pesto. Add the mozzarella. Stir to incorporate. Add the fresh basil and remove from the heat.

3. Divide pasta among bowls and sprinkle each with some fresh shavings of Parmigiano. Crack the pepper overtop and serve.

34 Comments

  1. Hi Lee,

    Serving this on the beach at sunset sounds ideal. If you want to serve it at room temperature, I might recommend not even cooking the tomatoes. Just cook the pasta, toss it while it is warm with enough pesto to make it flavorful, and then add the cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh basil once it is completely cool. How does that sound? Some toasted pine nuts might be a nice addition to this room temperature pasta, too.

    Report back if you end up making it! I hope all is well.

    Love,
    Ali

    Reply
  2. Who needs cookbooks these days when we have sites like yours, this pasta dish looks so colourful, delicious and easy to make, it’s ideal for us right now as the weather is warming up here. I think I’ll take Lee’s advice and eat this with my husband on the beach. FANTASTIC.

    Reply
  3. I needed a healthy dose of summer today, so I made this … IN FEBRUARY! I found some lovely greenhouse-grown cherries and some beautiful, fragrant basil. It was just what the doctor ordered (and my kids LOVED it!)

    Reply
  4. I actually do this pretty often in Summer when my cherry tomatoes are in abundance. If I have a salad of tomatoes and leftover, I will even add a can of Tuna and leave out the mozzarella~ Works wonders for an emergency lunch. That is what I love about my Italian kitchen, the possibilites are endless. I know what I am having for lunch! Saluti! Barbara

    Reply
  5. I just made this for me and my fiance but I added peas, prosciutto, and pine nuts. It was super easy and tasty. My fiance had thirds!

    Reply
  6. Ok so I made this yesterday for a jewelry party. I cooked the pasta and added the pesto to the warm pasta and then let cool. then I added the rest of the stuff. I served this cold and it was very good and a hit! Thank you very much for the recipe.

    Reply
    • Heidi — what a great idea. I almost like this idea even better. Your way would prevent the mozzarella balls from all clumping together and from the basil losing its vibrant green color. I like that you added the pesto to the warm pasta, too — I bet that helps it soak up the flavors more. Thanks for the variation. Love the idea of serving this room temperature for a party!

      Reply
  7. This dish was so good! I love caprese salad, and loved making it in pasta form. The mozzarella does melt together and get a little clumpy, but I’d never complain about eating a big clump of cheese :)

    Reply
    • Marny, so glad to hear this — the mozzarella ball clumping is sort of annoying despite how delicious clumps of melted cheese are. I wonder what could be done to prevent this? At the restaurant, this dish was made to order, and the mozzarella balls were added at the very last second just five or six per order, so that helped prevent the clumping. I think in a larger quantity, it’s almost impossible to avoid.

      Reply
  8. This is so delicious!! Absolutely loved it. I added more tomatoes and pesto cause I love both of those!! Definatley making again,

    Reply
  9. I use to have a problem with clumping fresh mozzarella until I tried some advice from America’s Test Kitchen. They recommend freezing the pieces for 15 minutes and it works like a charm! No more big cheese clumps again!

    Reply
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