My 20-year-old brother came to town and slept on my couch last weekend. He brought with him a caddy of toiletries and a beach towel, and contributed an empty pizza box, beer bottles and a raised toilet seat. In other words, he temporarily turned my apartment into a frat house. He also introduced me to Tinder and the term FBO (“Facebook Official”). Hanging out with a college kid made me feel like a clueless old person.
I kicked my feet up and embraced the mess, all the while contemplating what it means to be a 20-something in the first world. My brother represents the hopeful 20-year-old who is ready to take on the world before he can legally drink a beer. Seven years his senior, I know more what life is like in the “real” world but nonetheless encourage my baby bro to dream big. Why not?
I’ve officially entered the last quarter of my twenties and I kind of like it here. I’m still plenty optimistic, but more grounded in reality. I can’t stop giggling at this list and this video. And this TED Talk on why 30 is not the new 20 rocked my world.
This recipe started to take shape while my brother was in town. We stayed in for dinner to save money; he ate leftover cheese pizza while I haphazardly threw some cherry tomatoes in a pan and reheated spaghetti. He eyed my pasta while I wished for more pizza. I’ve refined the recipe a couple times since then and it’s about as simple as can be. Boil water for pasta, cook cherry tomatoes whole in the meantime, and toss in some chopped basil and mozzarella balls at the end.
Caprese salads might be ubiquitous this time of year, but for good reason. You really can’t go wrong with any combination of mozzarella, basil and ripe, peak-season tomatoes. Pasta just plays a supporting role in this recipe. The idea for cooking the cherry tomatoes comes from Tom Colicchio’s recipe for squid with burst cherry tomatoes in Food & Wine’s August issue. Briefly cooking the tomatoes on the stove makes their bright flavor sing and releases some juices that combine with the olive oil to turn into a light pasta sauce. Dinner is ready in twenty minutes.
- 6 ounces whole grain fusilli or rotini pasta
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 8 ounces baby mozzarella balls (ciliegine), or one mozzarella ball
- Several sprigs fresh basil (enough for 2 tablespoons chopped)
- 2 to 3 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar, to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain and return the pasta to the pot.
- While the pasta is cooking, warm the olive oil in a large, non-reactive, heavy-bottomed pot or pan over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and ½ teaspoon sea salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the tomatoes have started to burst out of their skins and the olive oil has a light red hue (about 5 minutes). Toss the tomatoes and their sauce with the cooked pasta. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes while you slice the mini mozzarella balls in half (if you're using a large mozzarella ball, tear it into little pieces) and chop the basil into short little strips.
- Toss the mozzarella balls and basil into the pasta. Add the vinegar and salt to taste.
- This salad will keep well in the refrigerator for a few days. Leftovers are great chilled or at room temperature. You can also reheat the pasta if you don't mind the mozzarella melting (yum).
- Cooking tip: an enameled cast iron Dutch oven is the perfect cooking pot for the cherry tomatoes (it's also great for cooking pasta and soups/stews, and it will last forever).