Cooking Class with Chef Ivan Flowers – Lesson 78 Quick Caprese Pasta

The last class was all about developing crispy skin on fish. I’m hoping that you not only made my Crispy Skin Trout recipe, but that you also experimented with other types of fish. This week I’ve been thinking about getting more people to cook at home. It saddens me that we have become a society that is so reliant on take-out and delivery. Cooking at home is not only healthier, but it is also a wonderful way to connect with your family. I believe one of the top reasons people are not cooking at home is because they think it is too much work and takes too much time. So I came up with a quick and easy dish that will let you have a delicious and healthy dinner on the table in about fifteen minutes!

Before I get into the recipe I want to talk about what exactly is Caprese. Caprese is an Italian salad that comes from Capri. In fact, Caprese means salad of Capri. It consists of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, salt and olive oil. It is plated tomato, mozzarella, basil leaf, so it mimics the colors of the Italian flag. Then a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of olive oil is added. It is a classic and the flavors work fabulously together. So this Caprese Pasta has all of those flavors plus a light sauce. Hungry yet? Good.

Now, let’s get cooking!

This recipe serves four. For it you will need: one pound penne (I like using whole wheat pasta), five Roma tomatoes diced with the pulp removed, ¼ cup olive oil, ¼ cup Chardonnay, one tablespoon unsalted butter, juice of one lemon, ¼ cup chopped fresh basil, three cloves garlic finely minced, ½ pound whole milk mozzarella diced, ¼ cup grated Parmesan, large sauté pan, wooden spoon, knife, colander, large sauce pan, salt and pepper.

The first thing to do is get the water boiling for your pasta. Remember to add in a generous amount of salt because that is the only chance you get to season the pasta. Cook the pasta to al dente according to package directions. Al dente means to the tooth, in other words, you don’t want overcooked, mushy pasta. Once the pasta is cooked, drain in the colander, reserving one cup of the pasta water.

Now into the large sauté pan add in the minced garlic and olive oil. Turn the heat to medium and stirring occasionally cook until the garlic is soft. This will take about two minutes. Next add in the Chardonnay and the lemon juice. Remember to use a wine you would drink. A bad wine becomes unpalatable when used in cooking because you are concentrating the flavors. If you don’t want to use wine, you can sub in low sodium vegetable or chicken stock. Let the liquid come to a simmer and once it is simmering, cook for about four minutes. You want the liquid to reduce by 1/3.

Once reduced, add in the diced Roma tomatoes and the butter. I had you remove the pulp from the tomatoes (simply cut them in half and use a spoon to scrape out all the seeds and ribs) because it allows the tomato to stay firmer when you cook it. Because I want this pasta to mimic a Caprese salad, I want those tomatoes a little firm. Give it a stir and add in the cheese. Please use whole milk mozzarella, not the part-skim variety. This is because the whole milk variety has more fat and will melt more easily.

Cook and stir for two more minutes until the cheese starts to melt. Once this happens add in the pasta and the basil. You add the basil in last so it retains its color and flavor. Now, salt and pepper to taste. At this point, if you want saucier pasta, add in some of the reserved pasta water. Transfer to a plate and top with the Parmesan.

That’s it!

This pasta is fabulous as it is, but you can add in so many things to this recipe and change it up a bit. Try adding in roasted mushrooms, peas and roasted broccoli for a Primavera. Or add in grilled chicken or sautéed shrimp. How about topping it with meatballs? Yum! Also, don’t forget to serve it with my killer garlic bread!

There you have it, a quick and easy dinner you and your family will love. Once you start cooking at home, you will not want to go back to those take-out meals. Build a go to repertoire of quick and delicious recipes and use them for your weeknight meals. Remember, as with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what helps you create delicious meals you’ll never forget.

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Chef Ivan Flowers

Chef Flowers has over 25 years of fine cuisine experience. The former Executive Chef at Top of The Market, San Diego, also owned Fournos restaurant in Sedona, Arizona, named a top 25 restaurant in Arizona. He was also Executive Chef at L’Auberge de Sedona, the AAA Four-Diamond, Four Star award winning restaurant. Flowers has created extraordinary cuisine for some of the finest restaurants in Arizona, including T. Cooks at Scottsdale's Royal Palms Resort and the Phoenician's Mary Elaine's and Different Pointe of View.