Pasta for Dinner

Photos by Keri White

I love pasta. That’s not a unique opinion, although over the years pasta has been vilified as demonic, extolled as a simple, economic, tasty meal, and everything in between. While I could eat pasta every day, I don’t, so when I do I relish it.

These two dishes are simple, delicious and typical of Italian cuisine, in that they showcase the ingredients.

The first one is vegetarian and could be vegan if you omit the cheese — it won’t have the silken richness, but the roasted tomatoes and garlic deliver plenty of flavor, so the dish won’t suffer. Roasting garlic brings a sweetness and caramelization that is darn near intoxicating.

The second dish, amatriciana, is typically made with guanciale or pancetta (both smoked pork products). I have tweaked it using turkey bacon and omitting the cheese, thus adapting the dish for a kosher audience.

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Mascarpone Pasta
Serves 4

This dish came together when I realized the grape tomatoes I bought were passing their prime. No longer fresh, they needed to be used — and quickly — to avoid waste.

Roasting tomatoes brings out a depth and intensity of flavor that is just wonderful, and tossing it together with these ingredients provided a meal that suggested far more effort than it required.

If you don’t have mascarpone, you can use cream cheese, butter or even a drizzle of heavy cream. And if you don’t have either, you can skip the dairy; the dish will be lighter but still quite delicious.

I used grape tomatoes because that’s what I had on hand, but any small-sized tomato from plum on down is fine. As for the pasta — I used fresh fettuccine, but any long, ribbon-style fresh or dry pasta cooked to al dente is fine for this dish.

3 pints cherry, grape or plum tomatoes
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
Generous sprinkle of salt and pepper
¼ cup mascarpone cheese
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
Handful or basil, coarsely chopped, for garnish
1 pound fresh fettuccine

Heat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Line a cooking tray with parchment, and spread the tomatoes and garlic in a single layer. Sprinkle them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Roast them in the oven for about 45 minutes until the tomatoes are jammy and slightly black in spots.

Note: Keep an eye on the garlic during the roasting process; it may roast more quickly than the tomato, and you want it soft and mushy, not toasted crisp. If it starts to inch past soft, take the pan out, remove the garlic to a bowl and continue roasting the tomatoes until done.

When the tomatoes are nearly done, heat a pot of salted water to a boil. When the roasting is complete, mash the garlic and pour the tomatoes and their juice/drippings into a serving bowl.

Cook the pasta to al dente, and drain, reserving about ¼ cup water for the sauce. Toss the pasta with the sauce, add the mascarpone cheese and toss. If the sauce needs to be loosened, add a bit of the pasta water and toss to coat all noodles thoroughly. Top it with Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs, and serve.

Pasta all’Amatriciana
Serves 4

If you like spice, the red pepper flakes are for you. Vary the amount per your preference or omit it altogether if a milder flavor is desired.

4 slices turkey bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
(more/less per preference)
½ cup red wine
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 pound ribbon-style pasta
1 handful chopped fresh parsley

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or deep skillet. Add the onion, turkey bacon, pepper and salt. Saute until fragrant. The onion should be soft and the bacon thoroughly cooked, about 8 minutes.

Add the red wine, bring it to a boil and let it reduce a bit. Add the canned tomatoes, lower the heat, cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes, or as long as 90 minutes, if desired. The flavor will deepen a bit, but this is not a dish that requires hours on the stove.

Cook the pasta in salted water according to package directions to al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of the cooking water before draining and, when done, toss the pasta with sauce, adding water if needed to coat the noodles.

Top with chopped parsley, and serve.


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