The first time I grew tomatoes I knew very little about gardening. But we had a small south facing garden spot between our walkway and house begging to be planted. So we put three Early Girls in the ground. The steady sunshine and heat thrown from the wall next to our house helped produce more gorgeous red tomatoes than a new gardener like me deserved. I finally understood why people plunged their teeth into a whole tomato as if it were an apple. They were sweet and juicy and their texture was perfect.
If you’re lucky to be growing your own tomatoes or have access to locally grown ones, you must try this pasta. Simmering tomatoes very briefly just until they start to fall apart and release their juice brings out their flavor and guarantees little pieces clinging to most every bite of the thin noodles. Fresh mozzarella and basil are a natural with the tomatoes, but I like the addition of fresh cracked black peppercorns.
Crushed black peppercorns are spicy but not in the same way as a fresh jalapeno. A jalapeno is a fresher, spiky spice where as a crushed black peppercorn’s is more earthy and even. Its warm flavor compliments the sweet tomatoes, fragrant basil and milky mozzarella. The easiest way to crush them is to put them in a re-sealable plastic bag and hit them with a kitchen mallet. If you don’t have a mallet, use a rolling pin or even the side of a can.
The pasta can be served warm or at room temperature and should only take about 30 minutes from start to finish. For vegetarians it’s a meal in itself but for carnivores serve it alongside grilled steak, chicken or fish.
Crushed black peppercorns
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
- 1-1/2 lb ripe tomatoes, chopped (about 4 medium size or 3 cups chopped)
- ¼ cup thinly sliced fresh basil
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 12 oz spaghetti noodles
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into bite size pieces
- In a large skillet over low heat, cook garlic just until translucent but not browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, increase the heat to medium and cook just until they start to fall apart and release their juices, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the basil and salt.
- Put peppercorns in a re-sealable plastic bag and pound with a kitchen mallet (or a hammer, rolling pin or the side of a can if you don’t have a mallet) until coarsely broken apart.
- Cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to package directions for the length of time; drain then stir into the tomatoes. Add mozzarella and peppercorns and toss; season with salt.