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It was during my first ‘real’ vacation that I fell in love. With tomatoes.

I’d been secretly stashing away some dough. One day I realized there was enough in savings to pay for a trip. Jamaica sounded good. It would commemorate two important life events: my first vacation to a destination that was not a family vaca with the ‘rents, and turning 30.

The destination was a seaside all-inclusive resort in Ocho Rios near the magnificent Dunn River Falls. But all-inclusive meant dining in a windowless banquet hall making our dinner selections from a buffet. Um, no. We opted to dine at a small al fresco Grille situated between the pool’s sun deck and the sea. It could not have been more romantic. Dining under deep blue star-studded skies. The quiet of the surroundings broken only by sound of the surf. It felt exclusive. Private.

The menu was compromised of a few grilled items – we worked our way through the selections of beef, pork, chicken, fish and shellfish during our week. Each entrée was accompanied by a Jamaican slaw and slabs – yes, slabs – of huge, luscious, ruby-red tomatoes.  Even the tomato hater that I was could not resist.

I suppose that I have been seeking that tomato experience ever since. Thus my passion for caprese – a perfect blend of succulent tomato, creamy mozzarella complemented by the citrusy tang of fresh basil and the rich earthiness of a good balsamic.

After enjoying a delicious bowl of Vietnamese noodles at Pho Lang Tang with friend Holly this past weekend (more on Pho Lang Tang later), the hunt for heirloom tomatoes at Findlay Market began. Happily, I arrived back home with a gorgeous heirloom and  box of sweet grape tomatoes.

First the classic caprese with fresh buffalo mozzarella, two kinds of basil from my potted garden and the thick balsamic from The Learning Kitchen.
Then, having been craving pasta despite the heat, caprese alla spaghetti, with:
homemade pasta (which has kept nicely in the pantry since the chilly days of March)
good olive oil
minced clove of garlic
handful of grape tomatoes
red pepper flakes to taste
thick slice of fresh mozzarella
fresh basil leaves, torn into bits or chiffonad
freshly grated Parmesan
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Meanwhile, warm a bit of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add chili flakes and whole grape tomatoes. Toss for about a minute, then add the cooked pasta with a touch of the pasta water.

Remove from heat, toss in basil and mozzarella. Top with freshly grated Parmesan.

Enjoy the burst of warm tomatoes in your mouth. Even funner with friends. Makes me wonder how one could possibly consider disliking a tomato?