Alert: This is not an authentic Italian recipe. (You can find our Old World recipes here, though.) But it is a delicious mozzarella tomato basil pasta dish that tastes as great as it looks!
When it’s tomato season, by all means, use fresh, peeled and seeded tomatoes. However, for the cooler months, use a can of good-quality crushed tomatoes. Just make sure the ingredients aren’t more complicated than tomatoes, citric acid and maybe salt; the simpler, the better.
What Does Caprese Mean?
Caprese is a salad made of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and olive oil. The dish is said to have been developed in Italy in the 1950s at Trattoria da Vincenzo. This combination of ingredients has a delicious flavor profile, which explains why you can find Caprese versions of many foods like pizza, sandwiches and pasta.
How to Make Mozzarella Tomato Basil Pasta
This step-by-step guide will help you make a delicious mozzarella tomato basil pasta dish. After you make it a time or two, try small tweaks to make it your own!
- 1 pound fresh pasta (try a fresh refrigerated pasta or make your own)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/3 cup finely diced red onion
- 10 fresh basil leaves chiffonade, plus small clusters for garnish
- 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes (or fresh, peeled and crushed tomatoes)
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella (smaller balls such as pearls or larger mozzarella cut into 1/4-inch pieces)
- Sea salt
Editor’s Tip: Use only the best fresh basil leaves and do not overchop. You don’t want to bruise the herb, resulting in dark, bad-tasting basil. Learn how to chiffonade the right way.
Step 1: Boil the pasta
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Follow the package instructions to make al dente pasta. Don’t skimp on the water or the salt! (Better yet, double the recommended amount of salt.)
While the water begins to warm up, begin making the sauce. (That’s step 2, below.)
Once the water comes to a boil, cook the pasta. When you’re ready, drain the pasta and save one cup of the pasta water.
Step 2: Cook aromatics
In a large saute pan, heat the oil over high heat. Once warm, add the onions and lower heat slightly. Cook until translucent but not brown. (At this point, if you like a spicier taste, feel free to add a couple of pinches of crushed red pepper flakes and saute a bit longer.)
Add the basil chiffonade and saute on lower heat for about 30 seconds.
Step 3: Add the tomatoes
Turn up the heat to high and add the tomatoes. Once the sauce begins to boil rapidly, cover for about a minute. Remove the cover and reduce the heat to medium-high. Add salt to taste but don’t be too heavy-handed at this point. The sauce will become saltier as it reduces.
Simmer at a rapid pace and stir occasionally, allowing the sauce to thicken (uncovered) for about five minutes. Make sure the sauce doesn’t thicken too quickly or too much. You do not want it to stick to the bottom of the pan, either. If necessary, lower the heat or cut the cooking time down a bit. (The time here is a rough guide. Remember: It’s ready when it’s ready!)
Editor’s Tip: If you oversalted the sauce, try these fixes.
Step 4: Finish the dish
In the meantime, your pasta should have finished cooking and been drained.
Lower the temperature of the sauce and slowly add the cup of pasta water. Only add as much as you need or want, stirring to incorporate. Taste again and salt, as needed.
Finally, add the cooked pasta and toss until coated in sauce. Add the drained mozzarella to the pasta and toss in the sauce to warm.
Plate each portion with even distribution of mozzarella—no one wants to get the short end of that stick! Then season with freshly ground pepper, a sprinkling of large, flaky sea salt (I like Maldon flakes) and garnish with a small bunch of basil leaves.
Serve and enjoy!
Jennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home
How to Fix Acidic Tomato Sauce
This simple pasta sauce may be a bit acidic for your palate. If you find that’s the case, you have a couple of options:
- Add a little bit of shredded carrot to add sweetness, thus balancing out the acidity of the sauce.
- Do what some find blasphemous—and add no more than 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon sugar. It will balance the acidity and leave the diner with an unplaceable sweetness at the end of each bite.
- Add a splash of good vanilla extract. It will have the same effect.
Just a small pasta sauce tweak will make this dish your own!
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