Pasta with heaps of melting mozzarella can take many forms, and most of them are baked.
Dishes like lasagna have their charms, but they’re wintry ones of the hot and bubbling variety. They’re perfect when you want to cozy up next to your oven in February, but a whole lot less appealing in the sticky heat later in the year.
This pasta is a wonderfully gooey exception. The only cooking you’ll need to do is to boil the pasta. Its residual heat will melt the milky, mild cheese as you toss all of the ingredients together.
There are myriad templates for pasta dishes of this type, many of them containing cubed mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, to make a pasta-rich riff on a Caprese salad.
This one is different. It skips the tomatoes but keeps the basil, blending the fragrant leaves — along with fresh mint, Parmesan, garlic and a little chili — into a vibrant, pestolike sauce. At the very end, pine nuts are added for crunch, and more fresh herbs are tossed in for brightness. It’s both light and rich, with a garlicky bite. It’s also extremely fast and easy to make.
AND TO DRINK
This summery pasta dish is a perfect opportunity to explore the world of seemingly modest Italian white wines, which often have characters revealed only in pairings with symbiotic dishes like this one.
Their names may have been diminished by numerous bad examples over the years. But good bottles that are fresh, bracing and resonant might change your mind.
Consider an Orvieto Classico from Umbria, made largely of the trebbiano grape, or a Vernaccia di San Gimigniano from Tuscany. How about a Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi from the Adriatic Coast or a vermentino from Liguria, or a Gavi di Gavi from the Piedmont, made of the cortese grape?
If you are irrationally opposed to Italian whites, try a gruner veltliner from Austria, a Muscadet from the Loire or a Corsican vermentino, written “vermentinu” and different from its Ligurian counterpart.
— Eric Asimov, New York Times
One thing to consider is the type of mozzarella you use. The softer and milkier your cheese is to begin with, the more it will melt and run, while firm varieties, usually those that have been salted, will retain more of their shape.
Both types work well here. Firm mozzarella will give you pockets of supple but not-quite-melted cheese. Ultracreamy burrata collapses into a luscious sauce, mixing with the pesto and turning it all a speckled light green. Buffalo mozzarella usually splits the difference; its more tender core melts while its outer skin tends to stay intact. In any case, it’s important to let the cheese come to room temperature before adding it to the bowl so it doesn’t cool the pasta.
While the cheese is warming up on the counter, I like to marinate it in some of the pesto mixture so it can absorb as much flavor as possible even before meeting the other ingredients.
This dish is best served immediately after all of the ingredients are tossed together, while it’s hot or at least warm, and the cheese is still nice and gooey.
It may be summer, but that doesn’t mean oozing cheese is any less alluring.
PASTA WITH MINT, BASIL AND FRESH MOZZARELLA
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 2/3 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
- 4 cups fresh basil leaves, plus more torn leaves for garnish
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves, plus more torn leaves for garnish
- 2 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
- Pinch red chili flakes
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
- 8 ounces fresh bocconcini or mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 12 ounces pasta, such as campanelle or fusilli
- Coarsely ground black pepper
In a small skillet over medium heat, toast pine nuts, shaking pan frequently, until golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.
In a blender or small food processor, combine Parmesan, basil, mint, garlic, salt and chili flakes. Pulse to combine, then add oil and process until smooth, adding more oil if needed to make a smooth paste. Taste and adjust salt and chili flakes if needed.
Transfer 2 tablespoons sauce to a small bowl and stir in mozzarella. Cover and let marinate at room temperature while boiling the pasta.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Scoop out approximately 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain pasta. Transfer pasta to serving bowl.
To serve, toss pasta with sauce and marinated mozzarella, adding a little of the reserved pasta water if the mixture looks dry. Top with pine nuts, torn basil and mint, black pepper, Parmesan and another drizzle of oil to serve. Serves 4.
Nutritional information unavailable.