Have you ever tasted a new ingredient and thought, “Now this is a game-changer”? I can remember a few times in my life: Maldon sea salt, really good dark chocolate, European butter, and most of all, six years ago when we were on our honeymoon in Italy and I tasted buffalo mozzarella for the first time. Previously, I’d had no idea that a buffalo’s finest talent was the ability to produce cheese that is so far superior to a cow’s that it practically deserves its own food group. But on the island of Capri, where we spent 7 blissful days, its famous Caprese salad is made using the creamiest, most mouthwatering buffalo mozzarella and I’ll never forget the taste as long as I live. (It didn’t hurt that we were devouring it while surrounded by ancient buildings covered in bougainvillea and endless ocean views, but that’s beside the point.)
I’ve tried to recreate those flavors ever since, and it’s not until recently when I was able to score some really fresh buffalo mozzarella from Whole Foods that I could come close. This caprese penne pasta is one of our go-to weeknight meals: it’s bursting with our favorite fresh flavors and takes literally 10 minutes to prepare from start-to-finish. The classic trio of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella elevates cooked whole wheat penne, and I like to use a high-quality store-bought pesto to make things really easy on myself.
*photo: Kate LeSueur
- 1 pound whole wheat penne
- extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 3 – 4 cups arugula
- 1/2 cup basil pesto, store-bought or homemade
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella (buffalo if you can get your hands on it!), cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
- coarse sea salt, to taste
- Bring a big pot of water to a boil, add a liberal dose of salt, then cook penne according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil to medium. Add garlic and cook, stirring continuously, for 30 seconds until it begins to turn pale golden. Add cherry tomatoes and continue stirring and cooking for 2 – 3 minutes, just until tomatoes start to soften.
- Add arugula to the skillet and cook for 30 seconds, then add pasta, mozzarella, and basil pesto. Toss everything together until pasta is warmed through and everything is lightly coated in pesto. Sprinkle with pine nuts and a pinch of salt, drizzle with more extra-virgin olive oil, and serve, passing more pesto at the table as needed.