To me, food has always served as a second language. It’s what I use to say “hello,” “goodbye” and, on occasion, “I was wrong.”
I’m not alone. Many people have told me that they use food as a way of saying, “I love you, but I can’t say it out loud, so here, have some salmon.” The culinary arts provide us with countless ways to tell people we care: Muffins for helpful neighbors, a homemade cake for Dad’s birthday, a romantic dinner for a new girlfriend. If you look hard enough, there’s a dish for every occasion. But there’s one major challenge that I hear from many men who want to make something for the women they love: They don’t know how.
Your secret is safe with me. I’ve heard statements ranging from, “How do I preheat the oven?” to “I went to the grocery store…one time.” Fear not: Chef Z-W is here to help.
One of the first things I ever learned how to make was my mother’s caprese pasta salad. It’s the perfect dish for a novice cook: Easy, inexpensive and versatile. I’ve served it at numerous functions and, every time, the crowd has absolutely loved it, always asking if I can send them the recipe. Look no further. Today, I share this Zantal-Wiener family recipe with you, along with a recommended wine pairing and dessert.
3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium-sized vine-ripened tomatoes - The type of tomato is important; the riper ones are extra juicy and will help coat the pasta.
8 oz fresh mozzarella *
1 chicken sausage link - I highly recommend Brat Hans Apple Organic Chicken, as it’s lean and adds a nice splash of flavor. **
1 ½ cups uncooked wheat pasta - This should make about 2 cups cooked. I like to use fusili or penne pasta. ***
½ cup fresh basil
Salt and pepper to taste
*** If she’s gluten intolerant, use pasta made from rice, corn, potato or quinoa. You can find these in natural foods stores or in the natural foods aisle of most supermarkets. Make sure the package says “gluten-free.”
1. Measure two teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil into a large mixing bowl. Add about 1 teaspoon of salt. Chop the tomatoes into ½” cubes and put them in the bowl. Allow the tomatoes to “rest” in the oil to absorb the flavor.
2. Cook the sausage. If you have a microwave, wrap the link in a paper towel and heat it for about 1 ½ minutes. Alternatively, you can use a toaster oven; set it to “bake” at 350º for 15-20 minutes.
3. While the sausage is cooking, dice the fresh mozzarella into ½”-thick cubes and add to the oil/tomato mixture.
4. Use this time to “julienne” the basil into ribbons, like so:
Start by piling the leaves.
Roll them into a cylinder, then slice.
Set the basil aside.
5. Once the sausage is done cooking, it’s a good time to cook the pasta. Bring a pot of water to a roaring boil; add about ½ teaspoon of salt to the boiling water. Add the uncooked pasta and cook according the instructions on the box.
6. While the pasta is cooking, cut the sausage into slices of desired thickness; I usually make them about ¼“ thick.
Add to the oil/tomato/mozzarella mixture and toss everything together.
7. When the pasta is done cooking, drain it well in a colander. Then, add the pasta back into the pot you used to cook it and toss with 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil.
8. Add the coated pasta to the oil/tomato/mozzarella/sausage mixture and toss all ingredients together. Congratulations…you now have pasta salad!
9. Divide the salad evenly into two bowls and sprinkle each with the basil ribbons.
I like to pair this dish with a nice chardonnay, pinot grigio or rioja.
When it comes to dessert, you can rarely go wrong with chocolate-covered strawberries; I recommend doing this fondue-style.
I like to buy my strawberries from the farmer’s market, but if you can’t make it to one, check out Trader Joe’s. Be sure to wash the strawberries, then place toothpicks in about a dozen or more.
To make the chocolate sauce, melting a cup of semisweet or milk chocolate chips in a bowl usually works. However, if you want to change the consistency, you can add a teaspoon of milk or butter.
Good luck! And remember, at the end of the day, it’s really is the thought that counts when it comes to this sort of thing. Speaking on behalf of myself, I wouldn’t care if a guy overcooked the pasta or chopped the tomatoes into bigger pieces; the bottom line is that he wanted to do something nice.
If you and your lady enjoyed this dish, stay tuned … there are plenty more where it came from!
If you'd like to guest post for The Professional Wingman blog, feel free to contact me.