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09/05/2016

~Pasta a la Margherita: Dinner's in about 30 Minutes~

IMG_0545Labor day might be the unofficial end of Summer, but, for the record, I don't declare it official until my garden is void of tomatoes and basil.  Having just finished making big vats of marinara and small batches of pesto for the freezer, while waning a bit, my tomatoes and basil are still very much alive and well and standing tall in my garden. So, Summer, you are just going to have to hang out with me a few more days -- and pasta a la Margherita will be a perfect dinner tonight.

IMG_0550Hot Pasta + Fresh Tomatoes, Mozzarella & Basil =  Perfection. 

IMG_0466A bit about pizza and pasta MargheritaPizza Margherita was created and named in 1889 by pizzaiolo (pizza maker) Raffaele Esposito working at Pizzeria Brandi in Naples.  He used a combination of all fresh ingredients which represented the colors of the Italian flag: red (tomato), white (mozzarella), and green (basil).  It was a hit with Queen Margherita who was visiting Naples, and before long, throughout the regions of Italy and then the world.

IMG_0542Pasta Margherita is an easier spin-off of the pizza (you don't have to make a Neapolitan pizza crust, you just have to boil some pasta).  I have no idea who created pasta Margherita and I don't think anyone else does either, but, if I were guess:  it was someone who wanted to cook a simple and straightforward meal using a short list of on-hand ingredients.  I truly believe it did happen somewhere in Italy, the home of using the freshest ingredient in a "simple and straightforward" way. That said, I can vouch for the fact that pasta Margherita regularly appeared on the menu of all trendy "in-the-know" Italian-American eateries during the 1980's and '90's.

It was a favorite of mine, then, alas, it came to pass that one too many times it was a boring, watered-down rendition that interested me as much as a hot-house-grown tomato in Winter.

A bit about "a la" and "Caprese" vs. "Margherita":  "A la" is a French term meaning "in the style of", so, if one is making "pasta a la Caprese" or "pasta a la Margherita", one is going to use fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves "in the style" of Caprese or Margherita.  "Caprese", or "the salad of Capri" is uncooked and served slightly-chilled or at room temperature, so, "pasta a la Caprese" is a cold pasta salad.  "Margherita", or "the pizza of Queen Margherita" is cooked and served hot or warm, so, "pasta a la Margherita" is a hot pasta dish.

IMG_04911  pound, small, fork-friendly pasta, not long strands (Note:  My favorites for this dish are medium shells or corkscrews.)

4  ounces salted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature (1 stick)

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoon red pepper flakes, more or less, to taste

3/4  cup marinara sauce, preferably homemade

3/4  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, total throughout recipe, 1/2  cup for tossing into cooked pasta, 1/4 cup for topping individual portions 

2  cups fresh buffalo-milk mozzarella, somewhat cold, diced, about 16 ounces (Note:  Just before you are ready to start boiling the water for the pasta, remove the diced cheese from the refrigerator and set it aside.  At tossing-the-pasta-time, it will be cold, but not ice cold.)

1 1/4-1 1/2  cups seeded and diced tomatoes (Note:  We grow Campari tomatoes in our backyard, but, it goes without saying, any garden or high-quality tomato will be just fine.)

1/2-3/4  cup minced chiffonade of fresh  basil leaves

IMG_0504Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes.  Transfer to a colander.

IMG_0507Drain well and return hot pasta to still warm stockpot on still warm stovetop.  Immediately:

IMG_0510 IMG_0514 IMG_0522 IMG_0525~Step 2.  Add the softened butter pieces, garlic powder, salt and red pepper flakes. Using a large spoon or two spoons, toss as you would a salad, until butter is completely melted and pasta is evenly coated  Add the marinara sauce and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and thoroughly toss again.  Lastly, add the diced tomatoes, mozzarella and chiffonade of basil.

Can you imagine ANYONE having a problem w/this?

IMG_0530Pour a glass of red & savor the straightforward simplicity of it:

IMG_0554Pasta a la Margherita:  Dinner's in about 30 minutes:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; 8-quart stockpot; colander; large spoon or two large spoons 

6a0120a8551282970b0147e3591d45970bCook's Note:  One of the first recipes I ever posted on Kitchen Encounters (eleven days after starting my blog back in 2010) was my recipe for ~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~. You can find my version of this classic Italian sauce by clicking into Categories 8, 12 or 22.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016) 

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