Now that there is sustained sunshine, spring jackets, flats and tank tops back in my life again, I have felt more a part of the world around me (by tank tops I mean that they are now actually practical to wear, vs. the entire winter when I was just allergic to warm clothing and reason). I’ve been cooking, meandering through the city, attending more Smorgasburg in Brooklyn, walking outside during the workday…even if I just circle the block aimlessly, wondering why it constantly smells like grill smoke in downtown Manhattan on the first warm days of the season …something that makes the day feel infinitely less monotonous.
I cooked a lot in the past week and a half. I made grilled paninis with mozzarella, tomato and avocado on sourdough by pressing them directly into lemon and garlic butter on my stove top until they sizzled and toasted with crunchy flavor.
Keeping to my ode to mozzarella, I made a pasta dish that has become an infamous icon in the Sara-and-Katie household…not once, but twice in 1 week…which is, shamelessly, not a record for us. We lovingly deem the dinner “mozzy pasta”, pronounced “motzy”, because long words (mozzarella) can sometimes be too stressful when one needs to get a point across quickly. Plus we’re adults, which means we can make up words.
This pasta started with inspiration by a stove top tomato “sauce” my mother used to make and spoon onto pasta. Over the years, I have since evolved it 4-5 times, adding new items and changing up the technique, until it’s reached its current succulent state. For once in my life, I know the exact measurements, proportions and steps involved in one of my own recipes, and even the brands of ingredients which work best. This is because I just love this pasta so much.
If you love creamy, fresh mozzarella and have at least a basic trust in my slightly irrational portion size, read on: (making it smaller will detract from the overall experience, but I will understand on some level. Make your wine portion smaller, however, and we cannot be friends. Sorry.not.sorry.)
Mozzy (“Motzy”) Pasta:
Serves 2 hungry people. BROKE ALERT, total NYC cost for 2 people is about $10:
-Slightly more than half a box of regular Spaghetti
-2 tablespoons of fresh butter (no 3 weeks old, fridge smell-infused business. You’ll regret it)
-1 large lemon, plus another ¼ if you have it around.
-About 2 heaping tablespoons minced garlic
-1 pint of ripe cherry tomatoes
-8oz of fresh mozzarella, preferably Ciliegine size (cherry sized little balls), I prefer Bel Gioroso. Don’t ask me why, but for some reason, the Ciliegine size packed in water seem to melt the best over any other style, especially mozzarella that’s not in water. If you get one that isn’t packed this way, I recommend spritzing it with a little water before cooking. I can’t give you a culinary “reason” for why I do this, I only know that it seems to work out better.
Put a large pot of water on and bring to a boil, add pasta. While it’s cooking, get a sharp knife (surprisingly, the best knife I have for this came from a dollar store), and slice each cherry tomato into 3-4 thin slices (see picture of tomatoes in pan, forgive messy stove). Slice your mozzarella balls into similarly sized slices, 3-4 per piece. Juice your lemon(s), set aside. Once the pasta is about half-cooked, coat a large frying pan with olive oil, just enough so that it’s coated and has a dash extra. Put the pan over medium heat and add minced garlic, spreading evenly over the pan. As soon as the garlic starts to sizzle, toss in all your tomato pieces and spread to cover the entire bottom of the pan (if you wait too long after the garlic starts sizzling, it will spit at you). Let the tomatoes heat through for a minute, and then use a metal potato masher to squish them all into the bottom of the pan. This will release lots of juices while still keeping the basic shape of the tomatoes. Don’t hesitate to really squash them…you’re looking for a hybrid between sauce and whole tomatoes. Once you’re done, add a splash or two of the lemon juice evenly over the cooking tomatoes.
Once the tomatoes have been sizzling for several minutes and the juices begin to evaporate slightly, add the pieces of mozzarella evenly on top of the tomatoes, covering them with a single layer as shown. Splash more lemon juice over the mozzarella and cook for several more minutes. If you have a tiny stove top like me, you might want to rotate the pan every so often so that each area cooks evenly over the flame. This is especially important to ensure the mozzarella melts evenly, and you don’t overcook parts of it which can (in rare cases) cause the mozzarella to curdle slightly and get grainy.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and throw it back into the empty pot. Add remaining lemon juice, stir, add butter, and stir again. Salt.
Place pasta evenly on two large plates. Salt your tomato/mozzarella pan, and poke mozzarella to be sure it is melting. It will probably retain its shape, but should be a gooey warm consistency and the sauce should be slightly pink and bubbling.
Spoon tomatoes and mozzarella evenly over each plate of pasta, and then use a large spoon to scoop out remaining pan juices onto plates. Use a rubber spatula to scrape all left over garlic pieces off as well. The pan should be positively baron before you’re done with this situation.
Salt once more.
Hot, steaming comforting flavor. The mozzarella is creamy and melts into the pasta. The tomatoes are luscious, fall apart and burst with tart lemon and savory garlic. The pasta is buttery, tangy and soaked in juices. I keep waiting for a day when I will become sick of this plate of goodness. But it’s never happened. The biggest question I come to is whether 3 days is a long enough hiatus before suggesting that the dinner be repeated. We think about it while we’re on vacation, drinking cocktails and eating at fancy restaurants. I am writing this while I eat leftover gobs of it that I couldn’t finish yesterday because I had spent the day (once again) at Smorgasburg eating maple bacon and drinking beer. I wish I could be sorry, but the feeling isn’t there.
Enjoy the food…and the lingering smell of cooked garlic that will plague your kitchen for the next 12 hours.