The summer salad we served most often from my childhood garden was randomly diced tomatoes (core and imperfections removed – bite sized pieces) mixed with thinly sliced red onions and basil, seasoned and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. We ate it along with a hunk of rustic bread to lap up the juices. It’s still my favorite. However, after eating tomatoes this way a few times, I decided to add a few things. I had a container of red and yellow bell peppers I roasted the other day so I pulled out a few filets of yellow peppers along with a few kalamata olives that I tore in small bits as well as a thinly sliced raw jalapeno. I mixed all this together, let them mingle a bit while I poured myself a glass of shiraz and sliced a hunk of fresh bread, which is a treat in itself but mandatory as an accompaniment to a tomato salad.
Warm Penne Salad
This flavorful dish was a customer favorite at my former Connecticut restaurant, Biscotti. The reason it tasted so good was because it married two classic dishes, pasta with butter and cheese and a brushetta topping, melding the heat of one with the coolness of the other. For this dish, opposites do attract. You can customize it to your liking but this is how I make it
For the Topping
3 – 4 “ugly tomatoes” (depending on size)
½ cup seedless kalamata olives – cut in half
1 cup diced fresh mozzarella (medium dice)
4 – 6 large fresh basil leaves – slivered
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (about ¼ cup or to taste)
Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper
For the Pasta
1 lb penne (use small shapes like a mini penne or other small cut so the pasta doesn’t overwhelm the “sauce”)
¼ cup olive oil + 1 stick butter
1 clove fresh garlic – finely chopped
Freshly grated pecorino or parmesan cheese (to taste)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.
In the meantime, in a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil and garlic. Sauté for a few moments until the garlic begins to turn golden. Add the cold butter in pats (this will prevent the garlic from burning and ruining the sauce). Once the butter has melted remove from the heat, and mix with the penne. You can add the pasta to the pan if it’s large enough (this is best) or pour the sauce over the pasta in a separate bowl. Add in freshly grated cheese according to taste, finish with fresh chopped parsley if you like, toss and spoon onto individual plates. Top with the tomato mixture and serve.