Pasta Caprese Salad
Pasta Caprese Salad

America's fascination with pasta salads has taken us a long way from the original macaroni salad. In the last few decades, pasta salads have became colorful and fresh, relying on vinaigrettes and an array of seasonal vegetables, cheeses, meats, poultry and seafood to help them sparkle. You'll find pasta varieties now include whole wheat, egg, cellophane, soba and the standard semolina. I like to use Italian style penne or fusilli here because it is so easy to eat with a fork.

This vegetarian summer pasta salad is a welcome treat as the summer winds down. Fresh ripe tomatoes, fragrant fresh basil and mozzarella cheese are added to cooked pasta, an adaptation of the classic caprese salad. Look for ripe tomatoes that are plentiful at this time of year. Don't bother peeling or seeding them -- this is a rustic salad.

A bonus is that this is a no-cook sauce. Fresh mozzarella is now commonly available at your supermarket. To make it even easier, look for the little fresh mozzarella balls called ciliegine so you don't have to cut up the cheese. Feel free to add cooked chicken or shrimp, shredded carrots, or green and black olives for an even more colorful and substantial dish.

Cooking pasta for a chilled salad requires a few tricks to make sure that the pasta doesn't stick together:

-- If using fresh noodles, remember they cook much faster than dried. Cook the pasta in boiling water, making sure to separate the noodles while cooking, using tongs or chopsticks. Make sure to check and pull the pasta out of the water when it is still slightly al dente. It will continue to cook.

-- Drain the pasta and rinse with cool water to make sure the noodles don't stick together. Then mix with the dressing or coat with oil to keep the noodles from sticking.

Pasta Caprese Salad

Serves 4-6

For the pasta:

1 teaspoon salt

1 pound dried fusilli or penne

For the sauce:

2 pounds ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil

1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley

5 medium garlic cloves, minced

1 pound fresh Mozzarella cheese, diced into 1-inch pieces or ciliegine

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Optional: 1 cup chopped cooked chicken or shrimp, 1/2 cup pitted olives or 1/2 cup shredded carrots

1. Add salt to a large pot of boiling water. Add pasta and cook over high heat until al dente, about 7 to 10 minutes. Drain well. Place in a large serving bowl, mix the tablespoon of oil into the pasta to keep it from sticking, and cool. Reserve.

2. In medium bowl combine all the sauce ingredients and mix to combine. Season to taste. Add any optional ingredients.

3. When the pasta is cooled, combine the sauce with the pasta and mix well. Season to taste, cover and refrigerate until chilled, about an hour or until serving.

This can be made up to one day ahead, covered and refrigerated. It may be served chilled or at room temperature.

Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks (click here), including "Seriously Simple Holidays: Recipes and Ideas to Celebrate the Season," and also a James Beard award-winning radio show host.

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