Two of my favorite Italian ingredients are oven roasted tomatoes and creamy homemade ricotta cheese, and I decided recently to combine them both in a pasta dish as I was craving a big bowl of comfort food. There are two ways to enjoy this pasta dish depending on what you prefer. I leave my ingredients separated, and enjoy the different flavors on each forkful as I eat my pasta, while my husband mixes the ricotta into the pasta with the other ingredients before he eats, creating a creamy, more blended pasta sauce.
Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of tomatoes through caramelization which once roasted, are wonderful used in many recipes. Although the cooking time is a long one since you roast them at a low temperature, it takes only minutes to prepare the tomatoes for the oven, so while they are roasting you can be busy doing other things. Homemade ricotta cheese can in fact be made in mere minutes, and is so much better than many of the commercial brands you buy in the grocery stores. The steps in this recipe may look long, but you can roast the tomatoes and make your ricotta cheese on one day, then cook and assemble your pasta dish the next.
To simplify this recipe, you can buy your ricotta cheese and pesto sauce if you are short on time, but do choose the best quality whole milk ricotta cheese and pesto you can find. I simply coarsely chopped my tomatoes after I roast them, but if you prefer, you could puree them into a smoother sauce. This “sauce” is great served on long pasta like the strangozzi pasta (similar to spaghetti) from Umbria shown in the photos, or on short pasta such as rigatoni or penne. You will have leftover ricotta cheese and pesto sauce if you follow the recipe below, but both can be used again for another recipe. Do bring all the ingredients to room temperature before preparing the pasta.
Deborah Mele 2013
- 10 To 15 Ripe Plum Tomatoes
- 2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
- 1 Teaspoon Sugar
- Salt & Pepper
- 1 Tablespoon Finely Chopped Fresh Thyme (Or Herb Of Choice)
- 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
- 2 Quarts Whole Milk
- 1 Cup Heavy Cream
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 3 Tablespoons Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
- 1/4 Cup Chopped Pitted Kalamata Olives
- 2 Tablespoons Capers, Drained
Chunky Pesto Sauce:
- 2 Cups Fresh Basil Leaves, Packed
- 1/4 Cup Lightly Toasted Pine Nuts
- 2 Large Garlic Cloves
- 1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan or Romano Cheese
- 1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Pound Pasta of Choice
- Fresh Basil Leaves
- 1/4 Cup Lightly Toasted Pine Nuts
- To roast the tomatoes, preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
- Halve the tomatoes, and place skin side down on a baking sheet.
- Sprinkle over them the garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, and sugar.
- Drizzle with the olive oil and place in the oven.
- Bake for about three hours or until they have shriveled yet still remain moist.
- Cool, and coarsely chop.
- To make the ricotta cheese, line a large sieve with a layer of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl.
- Slowly bring milk, cream, and salt to 195 degrees F. in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring often to prevent scorching.
- Add the lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, just until the mixture curdles, about 2 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, and let the mixture sit 5 minutes.
- Pour the mixture into the lined sieve and let it drain 1 hour.
- After discarding the liquid, chill the ricotta, covered in the refrigerator. (Fresh ricotta will keep in the refrigerator 3 days)
- To make the pesto sauce, place all the ingredients in a food processor except the oil, and pulse.
- Start to add in the oil slowly, pulsing continuously until you have a chunky paste.
- Reserve 1/4 cup of the pesto sauce, then refrigerate the rest for another use.
- If you do not plan to use it right away, store in a container with an additional layer of olive oil on top to prevent discoloration.
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of lightly salted boiling water until it is "al dente".
- Drain, reserving a small cup of pasta water, and return to the pot.
- Add the roasted tomatoes, olives, and capers and toss with the pasta.
- Return the pot to the stovetop and cook for a minute or two tossing the tomatoes and pasta along with a little of the reserved pasta water until everything is piping hot.
- Serve the pasta in a large pasta bowl, or smaller individual ones topped with a couple of scoops of the ricotta cheese and a drizzle of the pesto sauce.
- Garnish with the basil leaves and lightly toasted pine nuts and serve immediately.