Thursday, April 26, 2012

Easy Baked Tomato Pasta

This is a staple dinner at our house. I've served it to guests who hate tomatoes and had them ask for the recipe. It's ridiculously good and incredibly flexible. 

Trying to write it up as a recipe was a bit tricky because it's very much a 'by feel' and 'how much you have on hand' sort of dish. You can make it meaty or vegetarian, rich or light, for one or for a crowd. It's a great trick to have up your sleeve. 

Please take the amounts with a grain of salt. In the end, you're halving tomatoes, topping them with fresh bread crumbs, cheese and oil and baking them until thick, flavorful and reduced. Then you stir, add pasta and pasta water and eat.

Easy as falling down stairs.

I made this for the boys for lunch and they were pretty much ready to erect a statue in my honor. And did you catch that... I made it for lunch. It's that simple.

Pasta with Baked Tomato Sauce
Serves 4 (or as many people as you want from 1-12 with adjustments)

extra-virgin olive oil (about 1/4 of a cup) or melted butter
Roma tomatoes, halved (I use 2-4 lbs) Cherry tomatoes work great too.
1/3 lb (hot) italian sausage (or 1/2 lb, or none)
A few slices of bread or 1/3 cup plain dry FRESH breadcrumbs (please don't use bought. Gross!)
1/4 cup (or more) freshly grated Parmigiano (or Romano, Asiago etc)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (if you like garlic. We do.)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound dried pasta:  rotini or spaghetti are great
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn

* Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut off the ends of a french loaf or grab a few slices of bread and throw them in the oven while you preheat. I had artisan bread so I tore it into chunks to toast faster.

Once they've dried out a bit, whir them up in a food processor 

with a chunk of cheese 

(you might end up with a few larger pieces of cheese. No one's ever complained to me about getting extra cheese so I wouldn't worry about it. But if it bugs you, break them up with your fingers.

Add a little salt (1/2 tsp). Garlic salt is fine.

Brush a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with oil or butter. Crumble little pieces of uncooked italian sausage all over the bottom of the pan. If you're crowd is hungry add up to 1/2 pound of italian sausage, if they're vegetarian, omit sausage altogether. Works fine both ways.

* Place the tomatoes cut side up in the dish on top of the sausage. For cherry tomatoes just cut them in half. For Romas, I like to get rid of the hard core in the center and some of the seeds. It's personal preference though. The recipe works just fine if you just cut them in half and hull them. 

*  Sprinkle the bread-crumb mixture over the tomatoes, making sure that each cut side is well covered with the crumb mixture. I tossed in a little minced garlic as well. 

Drizzle with olive oil. Melted butter is delicious in place of the oil but makes it taste a lot richer. 

* Sprinkle with pepper.

*  Bake until the tomatoes are cooked through and starting to brown on top, about 20 minutes for cherry tomatoes and up to 40 minutes for romas.

Oops. My back acted up and I got my non-cooking kid to keep an eye on the tomatoes. They're a little overcooked... but it's no big deal, they'll only taste better. I'll add more pasta water.

You know the tomatoes are ready when you press on them with a fork and they collapse.

*Boil one pound of pasta in salted water.

Meanwhile... this step is completely optional but it's must in our house. I flip the tomatoes over, press them down with a fork and the skin pops right off. Then I slide the tines of the fork under the skin and lift it off. This step makes the sauce a lot smoother. Tomato skins are creepy to us.

Removing them only took a minute. Doggy wanted to help :-)

*Stir. You'll end up with a porridge looking pan of mush. It's delicious. 

*Chop up some herbs. I love LOTS of basil but didn't have more then a few leaves so I chopped up some parsley too.

*Before draining pasta, save some pasta water.  This is a really large glass, since my tomatoes were overcooked I knew I'd be needing a lot of water to make the sauce.

* Add herbs and some pasta water. About half... ish. Add more water as needed. I've been known to add water before second helpings if it gets dry.

*Stir it together. Saucy!

*Drain your pasta in a colander for no more then ten seconds. You want it on the wet side. 
Dump it in the pan of sauce and toss.

* Season with more salt and pepper if needed (we rarely need it) and generously top with fresh grated parmesan.

Serve with crusty bread, right out of the pan, and encourage people to sop up the juices and burnt bits right out of the pan with their bread.

P.S. Here is an old picture from a batch last summer that wasn't so overcooked. Looks delicious!

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