Recipes

Recipe: Melt mozzarella without the oven

This light herb and pasta dish uses the heat from freshly boiled pasta to melt the mozzarella without requiring an oven.
This light herb and pasta dish uses the heat from freshly boiled pasta to melt the mozzarella without requiring an oven. PHOTOS: Andrew Scrivani/The New York Times
The mozzarella is best when marinated in this pesto-like sauce while the pasta boils.
The mozzarella is best when marinated in this pesto-like sauce while the pasta boils.
Pasta such as campanelle works best with this dish.
Pasta such as campanelle works best with this dish.

(NYTIMES) - Pasta with heaps of melting mozzarella can take many forms and most of them are baked. Dishes such as lasagna have their charms, but they are wintry ones of the hot and bubbling variety. They are perfect when you want to cosy up next to your oven in February, but a whole lot less appealing in the sticky heat of July.

This summery pasta is a wonderfully gooey exception. The only cooking you will need to do is to boil the pasta. Its residual heat will melt the milky, mild cheese as you toss all of the ingredients together.

There are myriad templates for pasta dishes of this type, many of them containing cubed mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, to make a pasta-rich riff on a Caprese salad.

This one is different. It skips the tomatoes, but keeps the basil, blending the fragrant leaves – along with fresh mint, Parmesan, garlic and a little chili – into a vibrant, pesto-like sauce. At the very end, pine nuts are added to the bowl for crunch and more fresh herbs are tossed in for brightness. 

Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox

It is both light and rich, with a garlicky bite. It is also extremely fast and easy to make.

One thing to consider is the type of mozzarella you use. The softer and milkier your cheese is to begin with, the more it will melt and run, while firm varieties, usually those that have been salted, will retain more of their shape.  Both types work well here. 

Firm mozzarella will give you pockets of supple but not-quite-melted cheese. Ultra-creamy burrata collapses into a luscious sauce, mixing with the pesto and turning it all a speckled light green. Buffalo mozzarella usually splits the difference - its more tender core melts while its outer skin tends to stay intact. In any case, it is important to let the cheese come to room temperature before adding it to the bowl so it does not cool the pasta.

While the cheese is warming up on the counter, I like to marinate it in some of the pesto mixture so it can absorb as much flavour as possible even before meeting the other ingredients. This dish is best served immediately after all of 
the ingredients are tossed together, while it is hot or at least warm, and the cheese is still nice and gooey.

It may be summer, but that does not mean oozing cheese is any less alluring.

Pasta With Mint, Basil and Fresh Mozzarella

INGREDIENTS
1/4 cup pine nuts
2/3 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
4 cups fresh basil leaves, plus more torn leaves for garnish
1 cup fresh mint leaves, plus more torn leaves for garnish
2 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
1/2 tsp fine sea salt, or to taste 
Pinch red chilli flakes 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
230g fresh bocconcini or mozzarella, cut into 1cm pieces
340g pasta, such as campanelle or fusilli
Coarsely ground black pepper

METHOD
1. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast pine nuts, shaking the pan frequently, until golden, for about three minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.
2. In a blender or mini food processor, combine Parmesan, basil, mint, garlic, salt and chilli flakes. Pulse to combine, then add oil and process until smooth, adding more oil if needed to make a smooth paste. Taste and adjust salt and chilli flakes if needed. 
3. Transfer 2 Tbs sauce to a small bowl and stir in mozzarella. Cover and let marinate at room temperature while boiling 
the pasta.
4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Use a mug to scoop out approximately 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain pasta. Transfer pasta to a serving bowl.
5. To serve, toss pasta with sauce and marinated mozzarella, adding a little of the reserved pasta water if the mixture looks dry. It is okay if the mozzarella melts slightly while you are tossing.) Top with pine nuts, torn basil and mint, black pepper, Parmesan and another drizzle of oil to serve. 

Serves four