I was happily raised on Pasta Happelini. Growing up, it was almost always my requested birthday dinner. I asked for seconds. And sometimes thirds.
I’d like to think that every family who gathers around the dinner table has a dish or two that they collectively love. For us Happels, it is Pasta Happelini through and through. I guess the name sort of gives it away. Just as fate would have it, my birthday and the peak of tomato season collide in a juicy, bright burst of anticipation and deliciousness. For this, I consider myself very lucky.
Last Wednesday night, I popped by the Civic Center farmers market on my way home from work and bought a sackful of ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, white nectarines, kadota figs and mixed greens. I cranked up a Willy Nelson Genuis mix on my iPod in the kitchen and started chopping tomatoes for a big batch. Once the tomato mixture was marinating and the pasta water was on, I made a salad with nectarines, fresh mint and toasted almonds in a lemon vinaigrette and sliced figs on a plate with thinly sliced prosciutto. Friends came over with wine and thoughtful cards. Liz arrived at the door with fancy sea salt and a rainbow on her shoulder. Ellie brought a homemade plum crumble for dessert. Such gifts!
There are many wonderful, redeeming qualities about this dish. One caveat: You absolutely must use good tomatoes. But, ’tis the season! Right now you’ve got no excuse. With summer-ripened tomatoes, fresh basil, crushed garlic and a little chopped jalapeno, you can’t go wrong. I think adding a hefty drizzle of the jalapeno juice enhances the flavor. Of course, sea salt does too. And good olive oil. It’s the very best summertime meal on the planet.
about 2 1/2 pounds of ripe tomatoes
2-3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
a generous cup of fresh basil leaves, torn
1/2 – 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (bottled work well, be sure to pour in a little juice from the jar)
1/3 – 1/2 cup olive oil
sea salt and fresh, ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
about 1/3 pound muenster cheese, cut into small cubes (you can substitute for a creamy, mellow goat or sheep’s milk cheese)
enough capellini or linguini pasta for 4 people, about 1 pound (using thin noodles is essential for twirling and soaking up all the tomato juiciness, it’s even better if you use fresh pasta)
Coarsely chop the tomatoes – no peeling or seeding is necessary. Put them in a large bowl (just don’t use aluminum), and add the crushed garlic, chopped jalapeno, fresh basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Let this mixture stand at room temperature for at least an hour.
Cook the pasta, drain and return to its pot. Spoon off about 1/4 cup of the liquid from the tomato mixture, add to the pasta and toss. Next, add the Parmesan and toss. Add the tomato mixture with the muenster cheese and toss again.
Serve with a good salad and good wine. Happelini heaven.