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Diane Tarantini: What to do with a bounty of basil

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By Diane Tarantini

Caprese Pasta
Caprese fettuccine ready for cooking, with cubes of fresh mozzarella cheese in the foreground. (Photos courtesy of Diane Tarantini)

I have good news and bad news about my garden.

The good news is it’s thriving, despite the fact that I was nearly a month late getting it in the ground.

The bad news is, the deer have helped themselves to my tender, young plants, not once, but twice. First they taste-tested my green beans. Two weeks later, they sampled my cherry tomatoes.

Thankfully, the deer do not seem to care for basil. I say this because not a single, aromatic leaf has been nibbled on any of my eight, bushy basil plants.

So what am I going to do with all that basil? Of course, I’ll make tomato, cucumber and basil salad — drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then sprinkled with salt and pepper. And no doubt, a Caprese Salad with tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette will show up on our table at least once a week.

And then there’s my Caprese Pasta which is, in a word, fantastic. Caprese Pasta is similar to the salad, but hot, which makes the chunks of mozzarella cheese all yummy and melty.

And that’s not all. This recipe includes a surprise ingredient: capers.

Do you know where capers come from? Capers are the pickled flower buds of a trailing shrub that grows in the Mediterranean. Toss that trivia tidbit out at a party this summer and I guarantee, you’ll sound brilliant.

When you’re ready to cook, line up all the ingredients, in recipe order, on the counter beside your stove. This will help the recipe come together quickly once the pasta is done. I timed myself making it today and it took 30 minutes from start to finish. Win!

CAPRESE PASTA

(Serves 5)

¾ pound of the pasta-shape of your choice (I used penne rigate.)

1 (14.5-oz.) can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes*

½ cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

1 (8-oz.) ball of fresh mozzarella cheese, chopped into ½” cubes

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2-4 garlic cloves, crushed in a garlic press

3 tablespoon capers, drained

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

*This recipe calls for canned tomatoes, but, by all means, if you have fresh tomatoes from your garden or the farmers market, use them instead. Two to three cups of chopped tomatoes should suffice.

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Drain well in a colander in sink.

Meanwhile, place the rest of the ingredients, except for the grated cheese, in a large serving bowl. Stir gently to incorporate all items.

Add drained, hot pasta to the serving bowl. Stir gently again to mix well. Top with the grated cheese.

Serving suggestion: Serve with a tossed salad and fresh fruit.

Lifestyles columnist Diane Tarantini is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in Morgantown. Check out her blog, “Lessons from a Life Half Lived,” at www.dianetarantini.com. She can be reached at diane@dianetarantini.com


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