Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pasta Caprese

Pasta Caprese on plate with basil garnish

A great way to celebrate peak tomato (and basil) season

It’s been summer for a while here in North America. Which means our veggie gardens are overflowing with ripe tomatoes and knee-high basil. And every farmers’ market has mounds of both. So now is the perfect time to enjoy the classic pairing of these two warm-weather favorites.

If you add fresh mozzarella to the mix—taking an already wonderful flavor combination to an even higher level—you have the makings for Caprese salad. We eat a lot of that at our house, but sometimes we want something more substantial. Something that can also serve as a one-dish meal. Then we opt for Pasta Caprese—which is really just Caprese salad with a pasta base.

Pasta Caprese serves up healthy flavor that almost everyone likes—kids included. It’s also an easy-to-make recipe that can be ready in minutes. You won’t spend much time in the kitchen preparing this beauty. Which means you’ll have more time to enjoy all that summer sunshine.


Pasta Caprese in ramekin, overhead view

Recipe: Pasta Caprese

Caprese means “of Capri”—that magical island off the Sorrento coast (south of Naples). Some say the colors of Caprese salad (red, green, and white) represent the Italian flag.

Pasta Caprese allows for flexible measurements—you can vary quantities of ingredients to suit your taste. But you really want to use only the ripest tomatoes and best tasting, freshest mozzarella (they give the dish much of its flavor and pizazz). And use only fresh basil—the dried stuff won’t work in this dish.

There are several ways to make and serve Pasta Caprese. Some people prepare the dish ahead of time, chill it, then serve it cold. Others cook the tomatoes a bit to make a sauce. We opt for a middle-way method (our version isn’t as piping hot as one with a cooked sauce, but the cooked pasta makes it nicely warm nevertheless). We offer some alternative recipes in the Notes.

This dish takes 20 to 30 minutes to prepare.

This recipe serves 2 to 3 as a main course, or 4 to 6 as a first course. Leftovers will keep for a day or two if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Ingredients
  • 8 ounces dried pasta (any shape will do, although we prefer something with character, like farfalle—butterfly shaped—or rotini; may substitute fresh pasta—see Notes)
  • 1 tablespoon salt for pasta water
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced finely (optional; see Notes)
  • ~8 ounces cherry tomatoes (to taste; you may want to reserve several for garnish)
  • salt to taste (a few pinches)
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste (a few pinches)
  • ~6 ounces fresh mozzarella (the kind that comes packed in water—see Notes; to taste)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh basil, minced (or to taste; see Notes; may want to reserve a bit for garnish)
Procedure
  1. Fill a 4-quart cooking pot half full with water. Bring to a boil. Measure out the pasta. Measure out a tablespoon of salt to add to the pasta water (but don’t add it yet).
  2. While the water is coming to a boil, add the extra virgin olive oil to a large mixing bowl (one large enough to hold all the cooked pasta). Peel the garlic, if using, and mince it finely. Add the minced garlic to the bowl.
  3. Wash the cherry tomatoes and cut them into halves or quarters. Add the tomatoes to the bowl with the oil and garlic.
  4. Add salt and black pepper (to taste) to the tomatoes, and toss all together.
  5. By this time, the water should be boiling. Add the measured-out salt (Step 1) and the pasta to the water. Reduce the stovetop heat enough to just maintain a boil, then cook the pasta until done (see package instructions—it usually takes 7 minutes or so to reach the al dente stage).
  6. While the pasta is cooking, do the following: Toss (or stir) the tomato/olive oil combo a couple of times. Cut the mozzarella into slices measuring half an inch or so (or tear it into pieces of ½ inch to an inch); set aside. Wash the basil and mince it (the easiest way is to roll bundles of basil into cigar shapes, then chop them with a knife).
  7. When the pasta is cooked, pour it into a colander to drain. Then add the drained pasta to the mixing bowl and toss it together with the tomatoes. Add the basil, and toss again.
  8. Plate the Pasta Caprese, portioning out the mozzarella pieces among the serving plates. Garnish (if desired) with reserved cherry tomatoes and/or basil.
Pasta Caprese in ramekin with basil garnish

Notes
  • This recipe requires you to juggle several things at once (see Step 6, in particular). If you don’t want to feel rushed, do your prep work (cutting the mozzarella and mincing the basil) before you add the pasta to the boiling water in Step 5.
  • You can substitute fresh pasta for dried in this dish (and the flavor will be a bit better). Just remember to adjust the cooking time—fresh pasta cooks much quicker than dried.
  • If you don't want to use cherry tomatoes for this recipe, substitute regular tomatoes and cut them into bite-sized chunks.
  • Use fresh mozzarella in this dish (it’s typically sold in a tub, covered in water). Don’t use the kind that you grate or slice and serve on pizza.
  • If you can find mozzarella di bufala (made from water-buffalo milk), we recommend using it in this dish. The flavor is wonderful! But it’s not always easy to find, and it is always more expensive.
  • You can use more basil than indicated in the recipe—we often use more simply because we like it so much (and we have vast quantities growing in our garden). But the recipe as written yields a nicely balanced dish.
  • Be sure to add the basil right at the end. That way you preserve its fragrance and flavor. Also, mince it as close to serving time as you can—otherwise it may discolor.
  • BTW, basil wilts very quickly after you pick it. If we pick ours more than a few minutes ahead of time, we usually place the stems in a cup of water (like a bouquet of flowers) until we're ready to use it.
  • Garlic really is optional in this recipe. You will taste raw garlic. So if that doesn’t appeal, leave it out.
  • Alternatively, you can sauté the garlic, which mellows the flavor. If you do this, you might want to make a version of Pasta Caprese with a cooked sauce (see next bullet).
  • For a cooked sauce Pasta Caprese: While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the minced garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Then add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper, and cook. You can smash the tomatoes with the back of a spoon to break them down if you wish (I prefer not to, but it does give you a bit of tomato sauce). When the pasta is finished cooking, reserve ½ cup or so of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet (or if the skillet won’t hold it all, add it to a bowl along with the contents of the skillet). Toss together, and add as much of the pasta water as necessary to make a sauce. Add the minced basil and the mozzarella pieces, and serve.
  • If you want to serve cold Pasta Caprese, just make our recipe as directed. Then chill the dish in an airtight container for a couple of hours before serving. Some people like to add a bit of lemon zest to the cold version of this dish (add it when you add the basil).
Pasta Caprese on plate with basil garnish

Cropped Out

“Um, love these luscious ripe tomatoes,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, forking her Pasta Caprese.

“They’re the taste of summer,” I agreed. “Along with basil.”

“Too bad we had to buy these particular tomatoes,” said Mrs K R. “Since the squirrels got most of our crop.”

“Don’t remind me!” I groaned. “I thought we had the perfect defense against squirrels this year. Remember, we discussed it in our post on White Bean, Tuna, and Swiss Chard Salad.”

“Yeah,” said Mrs K R. “Those protective cages with heavy-gage plastic mesh. What happened?”

“Little varmints are chewing right through the mesh,” I said.

“Ah, yes,” said Mrs K R. “I should have known. So I guess this means we have a really healthy, sustainable cycle going.”

“How do you figure that?” I asked.

“Well, we get to enjoy the sunshine and the great outdoors while tending our tomato garden,” said Mrs K R.

“Then the squirrels eat the tomatoes . . . ,” I said.

“Providing them with high-quality, organic nutrition,” added Mrs K R.

“Right,” I said.

“Then we get aerobic exercise when we walk to the local farmers’ market to buy tomatoes for ourselves,” said Mrs K R.

Win win. Or something like that.

You may also enjoy reading about:
White Bean, Tuna, and Swiss Chard Salad
Pasta alla Norma
Summer Pasta Salad
Pasta, Bean, and Tuna Salad
Quick and Easy Gazpacho
Chilled Cucumber Soup with Yogurt and Dill
Or check out the index for more recipes

122 comments:

  1. This pasta dish looks simple easy to make, healthy and fun. The kids will love this :)

    Julie
    Gourmet Getaways

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    1. Hi Julie, it's really the taste of summer -- and so easy to make! Thanks for the comment.

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  2. Your comments regarding the squrrrls are always fascinating. Do you plan to offer any recipes for cooking the little varmints any time soon? Squrrrrl stew?

    your friend,
    Beethoven

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    1. Hi Beet, I'm definitely tempted to try a squirrel recipe or two! After all, we can attest that they're organically raised. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  3. One of my all time favorite salads. Your rendition makes me want to head to the farmers' market. As a matter of fact, I will on Saturday. Can't wait because I'm making this.

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    1. Hi Karen, isn't this such good stuff? This dish is one of the highlights of summer. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  4. I used to be OBSESSED with those bow-tie pastas when I was younger and could eat pasta. Man, it's bringing back so many memories!

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    1. Hi Gigi, isn't this a great shape for pasta! One of my favorites! Thanks for the comment.

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  5. You have squirrels, I had blossom end rot. Glad for the chance to support my local roadside stand :)

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    1. Hi Lydia, I probably should stop planting as much as I do -- there's always local produce of great quality readily available. But I won't stop growing tomatoes until I figure out how to thwart the squirrels! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  6. I could use this for lunch right now! You know squirrels have never been our problem. Rabbits. The rabbits eat everything. Manservant/Rabbit catcher never gives up! Right now they take one bite out of each apple. And this year there are a lot of apples! Thanks for this dish, John. It looks great!

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    1. Hi Abbe, your rabbits climb apple trees? Wow, they're tough! The cage I built kept the rabbits from all the lettuce and other green stuff, thank goodness. Gotta work on those squirrels! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  7. Hi John, we feel like our "wildlife friends" are treated very nicely as well. I've also had a few other problems in the garden this summer. Every year is different. Yes, this salad is definitely what summer flavors are all about. Looks delicious!

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    1. Hi Cheri, those wildlife "friends" do keep us hopping, don't they? ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  8. You pasta caprese looks so pretty and light...I love the combination of basil tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese...yes, we have squirrel here too and they dig all my plants...
    Enjoy your week John :D

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    1. Hi Juliana, squirrels are awfully cute, but such a pain in the garden! Thanks for the comment.

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  9. And don't you just love how the still warm pasta makes the fragrances of the basil and galric blossom when you mix everything together? A classic dish well executed. Nice!

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    1. Hi Terry, the aroma of this dish is the best thing, IMO. So wonderful. Thanks for the comment.

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  10. You are your squirrels crack me up, hahaha! You can't go wrong with basil, tomato and cheese. Add the pasta, and it's heaven. Great recipe, thanks :)

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    1. Hi Minnie, those squirrels kind of amuse us too, I must admit. But I'll get them! Eventually. I hope. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  11. Summery and delightful! Thanks for sharing this one!

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    1. Hi Dan, isn't this such nice stuff? So great for this time of the year! Thanks for the comment.

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  12. It's just not summer without lots and lots of caprese recipes...and lord knows here in California we have more tomatoes than we know what to do with!

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    1. Hi Sue, I was supposed to have more tomatoes than I knew what to do with. But the squirrels had other ideas. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  13. As son as I saw this, I knew it is gonna be a lovely recipe that is a keeper. Easy and nutritious in this hot weather.

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    1. Hi Amira, isn't this such a fun recipe? Tons of flavor, and so simple! Thanks for the comment.

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  14. That is the beauty of summer. It creates abundance of beautiful tomatoes that create a gorgeous pasta dish like this. Love your white balance settings -- it's always perfect. Thanks John! :)

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    1. Hi Ray, I actually have my white balance settings just a touch above neutral -- I like the warmer look it gives. Easy to do when you shoot RAW. Thanks for the comment.

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  15. I love the color of this salad! And the ingredients make a great combo...in my opinion the garlic is a must! Love it! BTW, we had our first pickings of green beans from the garden last night. Our garden is knee-high in weeds.....:) Thanks for sharing this.

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    1. Hi Pat, the color of this is so great, isn't it? One of the reasons why I like it. Well, its flavor, too, of course. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  16. Hi John, I do so love Mrs. K R sense of humor .
    This salad is fabulous and looks so inviting and the ingredients bring it all together . This salad will grace my table tables this weekend and I will use the small bowtie pasta . Thanks for sharing ... have a great weekend , maybe the squirrels will let you have a couple of tomatoes . See you next week . :)

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    1. Hi Nee, Mrs KR is something, isn't she? ;-) As is this dish. We've gotten a few tomatoes, but the squirrels are tough competition! Thanks for the comment.

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  17. I am thinking about some basily, tomatoey, cheesey pasta dish for dinner! Thanks!

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    1. Hi Debra, don't you love fresh tomato season? Your dinner sounds like a winner! Thanks for the comment.

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  18. Caprese is one of my fave salads. In pasta, it is even more delicious.

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    1. Hi Denise, aren't the flavors in this wonderful? Can't get enough! Thanks for the comment.

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  19. I'm sorry about your tomato crop! Critters always get to mine, too! Caprese pasta is one of my favorites! Bill does not appreciate the raw garlic, so I think I'll give it a nice little saute next time :)

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    1. Hi Liz, there's always next year! I'll outwit those squirrels eventually. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  20. Hi John,
    We seem to have pasta on both our minds this week.. I love your Pasta Caprese. A perfect meal or appetiser for a summer day. Light and delicious. The combo of the flavors is just amazing. Love basil with tomatoes. Great ideas in your notes, and Mrs. KR is always entertaining. Nice job! Thanks for sharing your very mouthwatering recipe. Have a great day..
    Dottie :)

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    1. Hi Dottie, I so often have pasta on my mind! Love it in a nice summery dish like this. Thanks for the comment.

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  21. This is so perfect--YES, I knew it was still summertime! I'm so glad I can celebrate with picnics and the like; I think this will have to go on my list. Thanks for sharing, John!

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    1. Hi Ala, this would make an excellent addition to your list! Thanks for the comment.

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  22. how delicious! never thought of making a caprese inspired pasta before, definitely something i need to try. looks delicious!

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    1. Hi Thalia, this really is worth making. Caprese is good in any form, but really shines in a pasta dish. Thanks for the comment.

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  23. Hi John,

    I reckon tomato and basil are one of the best couples in the cuisine world. This pasta looks so refreshing and yummy!

    Zoe

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    1. Hi Zoe, I think you're right that tomato and basil is one of the best culinary couples! So good. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  24. Simple and elegant, as ever. Squirrels are a menace! The rats of the garden! We've had to switch to stainless steel mesh to keep them out.. though that rusts in a year given our seaside location. Oh the lengths to which one goes for a few good tomatoes!

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    1. Hi Deepa, squirrels really are the rats of the garden. I'm definitely switching to metal mesh next year. We all raise some expensive tomatoes, don't we? ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  25. I really like this idea as my boys are not big on just the caprese salad alone but made hearty with a little bow tie pasta is just what you need to help stretch the dollar. So glad you are taking extra good care of the wildlife sanctuary in your back yard. Who needs nuts when there are fresh tasty tomatoes to nibble on... Take Care, BAM

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    1. Hi Bam, yeah, we have a real nature conservatory going at our place! I'll get those squirrels eventually. In my lifetime, I hope. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  26. I always love anything caprese! In fact I even over do it each and every time with the olive oil. It needs to swim, or so I tell myself. I haven't made caprese pasta before, can't wait to try it asap. Thanks for sharing John!

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    1. Hi Helene, anything swimming in olive oil is wonderful! Thanks for the comment.

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  27. When every ingredient is at its peak, very few are required. August is the ideal month for Caprese, we have it several times a week as a side dish -- adding the pasta makes it a meal. Delish!

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    1. Hi Judy, I agree that just a few full-flavor ingredients make the best dishes. And this is a good one! Thanks for the comment.

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  28. What a lovely way to celebrate the summer produce. A plate of this pasta and I am a happy woman :D

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    1. Hi Taruna, this dish makes me happy too! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  29. This looks so good. Definitely a great lunch for hot days when no appetite for heavy meal. Thinking to have some meat in it, such as chorizo or bacon. :)

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    1. Hi Yung, isn't this a nice dish? I'm not sure if the meat would add much, but why not try it and report back? Thanks for the comment.

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  30. I love this pasta - great flavor combination.

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    1. Hi Pam, isn't this a great dish? Totally wonderful flavor! Thanks for the comment.

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  31. Such a beautifully simple and flavorful dish! Not too far from our house, there is a place that makes fresh mozzarella. It is warm when you buy it. Better than any other cheese on earth.

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    1. Hi Laura, lucky you to have such fresh mozzarella! It's terrific, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.

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  32. How funny! I just made this very dish the other night. Great minds think alike!

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    1. Hi Mary, great minds indeed! :-) Super dish, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.

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  33. Isn't this a simple, easy and delicious to go recipe? I love Caprese pasta due to its ease of preparation.

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    1. Hi Shibi, easy always works for me! Thanks for the comment.

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  34. Oh yes, that's perfect summer dining!
    mary

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    1. Hi Mary, isn't this so perfect for summer? I love the taste of summer! Thanks for the comment.

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  35. Beautiful! The perfect peak-of-summer dish and I love how pretty it looks with the butterfly pasta. --Rocquie

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    1. Hi Rocquie, isn't that pasta a fun shape? Works so well in this dish. Thanks for the comment.

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  36. I love caprese in any incarnation. It truly is the epitome of summer, especially with heirloom tomatoes picked fresh that day.

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    1. Hi Carolyn, isn't caprese great? Perfect summer flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  37. This is a perfect summer meal, even if you did have to walk to the Farmer's Market to get it.

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    1. Hi Beth, we walk at least an hour every day, so going to the Farmer's Market is a nice outing for us. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  38. Summery and light, this pasta caprese looks delicious :D

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

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    1. Hi Uru, it really is delish! And healthy -- always a good thing. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  39. Tomatoes are the taste of summer. Your salad looks very delicious.Perfect for a hot summer lunch by the lake.

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    1. Hi Ansh, tomatoes really are the taste of summer, aren't they? So good! Thanks for the comment.

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  40. Haha... Love your little squirrel discussion...:) I'm glad however that we do not have squirrels around here so we actually get to enjoy a lot of tomatoes at the moment from our own tiny garden. And a pasta caprese is always a winner! Love it!

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    1. Hi Simone, those squirrels are something, aren't they? I'll get them, though! Maybe. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  41. I love this dish, it's always so light and refreshing and satisfying. When I was in Italy they'd serve this and I remember thinking how all the dishes were so simple and spectacular. Their tomatoes are like none I've ever tasted. There's a lot to be said about simplicity!

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    1. Hi Vicki, the great thing about Italy is the food often is quite simple and may not involve many ingredients, but all the ingredients are just spectacular. When you have good stuff to cook with, you really don't need to do much to it. Thanks for the comment.

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  42. So fresh, so easy and so Summer! I'm just starting to get tomatoes and will be making this one soon. Thanks for a great idea.

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    1. Hi Lea Ann, isn't this such a great summer dish? One of our favorites! Thanks for the comment.

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  43. Love this. When summer is at its height and the tomatoes are ripe...there's nothing better!

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    1. Hi Monet, isn't this such a great deep summer dish? Love it! Thanks for the comment.

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  44. Delicious! A great summer dish. Perfect when it's steaming hot outside...

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Hi Rosa, it's going to be steaming hot here this week, so I expect this will make an appearance on the table. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  45. I love the photo!

    Summer come at me!!!

    I live in sydney and its currently raining cats and dogs :(

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    1. Hi Dolly, it'll be summer there soon enough! And you'll get to enjoy this dish again. Thanks for the comment.

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  46. This is my go-to summer pasta recipe. Never fails. When I had Sadie (best dog ever) she would eat my tomatoes. Even when she was blind, she sniffed around found them (I kept changing their locations each summer) and helped herself. Happily, our squirrels leave most of them alone (maybe because my neighbor keeps them sated with peanuts).

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    1. Hi Claudia, I have a new plan to thwart the squirrels, which I'll implement next year. ;-) And I agree this is a never-fail dish! Thanks for the comment.

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  47. I love how easy and fresh pasta caprese is. This looks like the perfect Summer meal!

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    1. Hi Pamela, this really is a fresh and flavorful dish! And so wonderful for summer. Thanks for the comment.

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  48. Caprese is one of my favorite things to eat, I can eat it every day!

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    1. Hi Kristi, we can eat it every day, too! Such a great dish. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  49. I just made this! And by "just made this," i mean i've been making it over and over this summer, because i love caprese (with and without the pasta: i'm not picky.) Probably one of the precious few flavor combinations i never tire of, and no matter how much i eat it, i'm sad to see it go once the fall hits.

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    1. Hi Shannon, we're always sorry to see this go, too! Since a great flavor combo. But we don't have to see it go yet -- still plenty of time to enjoy it. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  50. Healthy and tasty pasta dish! Nice Caprese twist!

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    1. Hi Peachy, great dish, isn't it? So full of flavor! Thanks for the comment.

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  51. I love fresh basil, adds such great flavor! This recipe is great!

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    1. Hi Natalie, basil is a wonderful ingredient, isn't it? So fragrant and flavorful! Thanks for the comment.

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  52. Nice, simple, healthy and delicious pasta!

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    1. Hi Raymund, simple can be so good, can't it? And this is simple -- and good! Thanks for the comment.

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  53. Perfect! Nice and simple with great colors and delicious! I like your blog and will be looking around.

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    1. Hi Pam, welcome! Isn't this a great dish? So much flavor! Thanks for the comment.

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  54. This is a great recipe to represent how delicious simple dish can be when you use seasonal fresh ingredients! I am inspired to make this recipe this week!

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    1. Hi Nami, don't you love simple, flavorful dishes like this? Good ingredients really make the dish! Thanks for the comment.

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  55. This is a perfect way to use those fresh tomatoes in the garden. I love this simple dish!

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    1. Hi Dawn, we only make this dish when tomatoes are at their peak -- really ripe tomatoes make such a difference. Thanks for the comment.

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  56. This is a perfect light dish to celebrate and highlight the flavors of a summer garden!

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    1. Hi Amy, this dish really is the taste of summer, isn't it? Love it! Even if I have to buy my tomatoes. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  57. Lucky squirrels! Great tomatoes are one of my favorite summer vegs, and caprese pasta is the simplest way to get a bit of everything. This dish is gorgeous in its simplicity. Love it!

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    1. Hi Paula, yeah, we really have pampered squirrels. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  58. I find this recipe very light and refreshing with promising flavors,adorable clicks too,happy to find you,inviting you over to my space :)

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    1. Hi Harini, isn't this a great recipe? I'll definitely stop by your place. Thanks for the comment.

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  59. Sometimes the simplest pasta dishes are the best. With high quality summer tomatoes, this dish looks like a winner! Great post, John!

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    1. Hi Bill, simple really works in this recipe! Great way to enjoy seasonal tomatoes. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  60. Replies
    1. Hi Candy, it's a wonderful dish! We can't get enough of it at this time of the year. Thanks for the comment.

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  61. Wow! I love this recipe! Great job! I'd die to taste it!

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    1. Hi Marcela, isn't this a nice recipe? Simple, yet so easy! Thanks for the comment.

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