What is not to like about tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese? I could honestly eat that trio every single day and never be bored. However, as much as I would like to think, tomatoes and cheese on their own are just not that filling to eat alone as a meal. So why not toss in some whole wheat pasta to boost the fiber and fill factor and make what is normally a side dish into a main dish star? Sure, you can still serve this as a pasta salad side dish, or you can be like me, spoon it into a bowl, and enjoy it while sitting by the pool trying to stay cool in this heatwave.
Here is what you will need:
14 oz (or one box) Whole Wheat Pasta (feel free to use regular pasta and any shape that tickles your fancy)
4 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Salt (I used sea salt, but kosher salt is also acceptable)
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/2 cup Minced Basil
3 cups Cherry Tomatoes
8 ounces Whole Milk Mozzarella (you can use part-skim, but I really like fresh whole milk mozzarella)
Start off by bringing a large pot of water to a boil. Make sure you have plenty of water and enough space for the pasta to plump up and cook in. I cooked the pasta for 8 minutes, but yours may take longer or shorter. What you are looking for, is for the pasta to still have a nice bite to it. No one likes soggy pasta salad…or really soggy anything for that matter.
While the pasta is cooking, mix together your olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and dried oregano. Now yes, this is not a lot of dressing. But you are looking to flavor the noodles and other ingredients, not overpower them. You want enough to coat, not enough to spoon out of the bottom of your serving dish. Dressing is a condiment, not the main attraction people, remember this!
Now take a quick taste to make sure you have enough salt and pepper for your taste. Attempt not to dip bread into it and sop up the vinegary goodness.
Wash your tomatoes! I happened to walk outside and pick mine straight off the vine and even though I am an organic gardener, you never know what kind of many-legged critters have crawled on your veggies so give them a good rinse. While you are at it, rinse your basil and give it a rough chop. No need for it to look pretty…unless you want pretty basil and then by all means mince it pretty.
Cube your cheese. Please do not be like me and toss several cubes into your mouth every few slices. Repeat, Do not be like me.
As you can tell, there is no need to keep your basil from your cheese while prepping. It all ends up together in the end. Speaking of the end result…now would be a good time to check your pasta. At this point, mine was ready, in exactly 8 minutes, but last time it took longer. Pasta is fickle. Like me.
Drain your pasta and give it a good shake. Then put it back in the pot that you cooked it in while it is still hot. Pour on the balsamic/olive oil mixture and give a good toss. Inhale. Inhale again. It is a beautiful smell when balsamic vinegar hits warm pasta. Let sit. You don’t want to add the cheese now. You want cheese cubes, not melted cheese. If you are pressed for time (or are impatient) like I was today, you can transfer to your serving bowl and pop in the freezer for a few minutes to cool off the pasta.
Mix in your tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil. What beautiful colors! At this point, you can eat it room temperature or you can refrigerate for for several hours to let the flavors mingle. Which is what I did. Although..then I let it come to room temperature as I drove to the party I was bringing it to. In other words, room temperature or cold, this is a delicious pasta salad.
Tomatoes, cheese, basil, and pasta. All in moderation, they can make one delicious salad. I normally eat about 3/4 cup serving as a side dish. If I want to eat it it’s own I only eat about 1 1/2 cups. But you are welcome to eat more or less. Just watch your portions and remember whole wheat pasta expands after you eat it. Enjoy!