The Chef Is In: Mozzarella Trip
June 14, 2005

So I made pizza margherita not too long ago. And it was good. And, like you do when you make a small pizza, I had some leftover toppings still kicking around when I got home from work the next night.

It was hot that day, and I didn't want to add any more heat to the apartment than absolutely necessary. I figured the fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil would be really good as an uncooked pasta sauce--chopped up, and tossed with some (really good) olive oil, sea salt, fresh pepper, and shells. But it was kind of, well, boring. Any suggestions for how to liven this up for next time? Balsamic vinegar seems like a logical addition, but I don't really like it, so I'm stymied.

Dinner's <YAWN> Ready

Dear Dinners (Heh-heh. Ahem),

Boy did you come to the wrong person-- mozzarella boring, you say? Why I don't know what you're talking about. Okay, okay, I'll stop with the sarcasm and start with the actual helping. I won't mince words (or meat) here: with the pasta and the mozzarella, you've definitely got bland on bland here. As much as I clearly love cheese, I'm just not a big fan of the suspiciously wet mozzarella. However, despite all that, I can still give you some flavor flav tips.

My first reaction would have been to suggest the balsamic vinegar...but it sounds like you've already covered that. All right, I want to keep this simple for you because it started out as a nice and simple meal, so let's go with either an additional cheese or fresh garlic. To balance out the mozzarella, you need a harder, saltier, tangier cheese. I'd go with freshly grated (and no matter what Sandra Lee aka The Wal-Martha Stewart pimps, "freshly grated" does NOT mean "freshly grated and put in a plastic tub to sit for untold eons on a slightly refrigerated grocery shelf.") Parmigiano-Reggiano or a nice Pecorino Sardo. Grate as much as you like and toss it in while the pasta shells are still slightly hot.

If you want to go with the garlic idea, just mince up 2-3 cloves and add them to the hot pasta. I'm mindful that you don't want to turn on the stove, which is why I didn't suggest sautéeing the minced garlic first. Instead, the heat of the cooked pasta will gently warm the garlic, releasing its flavor while still keeping it quite piquante.

I know you said you're already using a very good olive oil, but sometimes even the best olive oils can be switched up every once in awhile. With a dish like this, you might want to go for a really young, green, Tuscan-style extra-virgin olive oil. It's the kind of peppery olive oil that hits you in the back of the throat with its pleasing bite. Give Stonehouse's Sevillano or Extra-Virgin a taste and see what you think.

You can combine these three suggestions or, since each one is guaranteed to sass up your dish, you can test them individually.



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