Returning from a weekend of wedding revelry and, needless to say, over indulgence, we chose to make one of our favorite summertime pastas for dinner last night. It is also one of the simplest to prepare, Pasta alla Checca. It requires a minimum of preparation and, except for the pasta itself, no cooking. It’s also quintessentially seasonal, using summer tomatoes and fresh basil.
If you decide to make this dish, I suggest that you only do so when you can find the best tomatoes of the season and that they are perfectly ripe as they constitute the soul of this pasta. The extra-virgin olive oil should also be the finest and the mozzarella the creamiest you can find.
There are many variations on this dish. My recipe is for the Roman version of Pasta alla Checca from 1,000 Italian Recipesby Italian-food authority Michelle Scicolone. Her recipes are always authentic and, I might add, never-fail.
Pasta alla Checca Adapted from 1,000 Italian Recipes
3 medium size ripe tomatoes
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced (I used a large clove, grated on a Microplane rasp.)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
20 basil leaves
1 pound tubetti or ditalini (I used the slightly larger ditali pasta.)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small dice (Be sure to us “fresh” as opposed to “low-moisture” mozzarella.)
1. Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the cores, Squeeze out the tomato seeds. Chop the tomatoes and place them in a bowl large enough to hold all of the ingredients. (Rather than squeezing our the seeds, I used a small spoon to remove most of them to avoid loosing too much of the juice.)
2. Stir in the oil, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Stack the basil leaves and cut them crosswise into thin ribbons. Stir the basil into the tomatoes. Cover and leave at room temperature up to 1 hour. (Be sure to taste carefully for adequate salt.)
3. Bring at least 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and stir well. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente, tender yet still firm to the bite. Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl with the pasta. Add the mozzarella and toss again. Serve immediately. (Be sure to toss the pasta until the mozzarella just begins to melt.)
Wine Pairing: Cerasuola d’Abruzzo, Dry Rose