June 13, 2009

pasta with oven roasted tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil

I'm crazy for Molly Wizenberg's recipe for pomodori al forno. I'm on my 3rd batch in as many weeks and these deeply red, deeply flavored tomatoes don't quit being terrific. Today for lunch, I topped pasta with slow-roasted tomatoes, chunks of mild mozzarella, and basil leaves from the garden, along with a healthy drizzle of tomato-flavored olive oil. Oh, and of course a few grinds of black pepper. With a couple of glasses of chilled cava, this was a simple but incredibly satisfying meal. I love these tomatoes! Make them. (I mean, if you want to.)

Pasta with Cafe Lago's Pomodori al Forno
Adapted from Bon Appetit

Notes: This recipe calls for fresh plum tomatoes. However, since tomato season has barely started, I've been using high quality canned San Marzano tomatoes, which are sweet and firm-textured. They work really well.

While the recipe calls for adding raw garlic at the end, I usually add it to the baking dish to cook with the tomatoes so that the oil is infused with garlic.

Speaking of that oil, the tomato-flavored olive oil is really wonderful; save it, even after you've finished the tomatoes. Use as a dip for good, crusty bread or adding to dishes that could use a shot of tomato flavor.

Finally, if you're not in the mood for pasta, these tomatoes are super delicious as a topping for bruschetta, stirred into scrambled eggs, with couscous and steamed zucchini, or alone. I would know since that's basically all I ate this week.

For the tomatoes:
1 cup (or more) good olive oil, divided
1 32 ounce can good quality canned tomatoes or 2 pounds plum tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano (or try fresh, I used 3-4 sprigs from the garden)
3/4 teaspoon sugar
kosher salt
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh Italian parsley
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

Pour approximately 1/2 cup olive oil into 13x9x2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Set aside.
If using canned tomatoes, drain can of whole tomatoes, reserving liquid for another use. Halve each tomato lengthwise and squeeze out the seeds. Arrange tomatoes in 13x9x2 baking dish, cut side facing up. If using whole, fresh tomatoes, halve them lengthwise, seed them, and arrange in baking dish cut side up.

Drizzle tomatoes with remaining 1/2 cup oil. Sprinkle evenly with sugar and a generous amount of kosher salt. (The recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of salt but I almost never measure salt when I'm cooking.) Add oregano, along with the minced garlic.

Bake tomatoes for 1 hour. After 1 hour, remove the dish from the oven and, using tongs, turn tomatoes over. Bake 1 hour longer. Turn over again and bake a little longer, 15-45 minutes, until the tomatoes are deep red and very tender. (Fresh tomatoes will, she says, take at least 3 hours, but my experience is that using canned tomatoes cuts the baking time.)

Transfer the tomatoes to a medium bowl, sprinkling parsley (and additional raw garlic, if desired) over each layer. Drizzle the remaining oil over the tomatoes, adding more to cover the tomatoes, if necessary. The original recipe says to let this stand at room temperature for 2 hours, which I have done but I have also let it sit for 30 minutes or so and thought it was fine.

If desired, you can cover and chill up to 5 days, bringing the tomatoes to room temperature before serving. Or you can make pasta, as follows.

For the pasta:

1 pound pasta, such as spaghetti (my preference) but a short pasta would be good too
A few handfuls of fresh basil
3-4 ounces of fresh mozzarella (the kind that comes packed in water, not the shredded/low-moisture kind)

Boil the pasta as directed on the package until al dente.
Meanwhile, gently chop the tomatoes into small chunks. I like to use about three quarters of the tomatoes for the pasta, reserving the rest for another use, but you can use as much or as little as you like. Chop the mozzarella and tear the basil.
Drain the pasta well and place it in a large serving bowl. Top with the chopped tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle a tablespoon or two of the tomato-flavored oil over the pasta for extra richness and flavor, if desired.

Variations I've tried:
Omit the cheese and basil. Add quartered olives, a handful of capers, and chili flakes for a take on pasta puttanesca.
Omit the basil. Add sautéed artichoke hearts and sliced fennel (cooked with the artichoke hearts). Replace fresh mozzarella with grated parmigiano reggiano.

7 comments:

Alan B said...

Yum!

Jyoti said...

these tomatoes must be pretty different from our enemy, the sun-dried tomato, right? :) the pasta looks yumm.

she cooks, he bakes said...

Alan b - thanks!

Jyoti - Of course my food twin would bring this up :) So, both techniques concentrate the flavor of the tomatoes but differ in two (key) ways: 1) Instead of dessicating the tomatoes, this technique plumps them up with oil. They stay moist, tender, and soft instead of well ... leathery. 2) Not nearly as intense as sun dried tomatoes. They are full flavored, though.

Jyoti said...

ok, good. i was worried. these sound great, anything plumped with oil sounds awesome :)

Lauren said...

Yum!

Lynh said...

I think tomatoes are just starting to come out at the farmer's market. I must admit - this recipe doesn't sound like it would be that good, but I checked the comments on bonappetit and they love it...maybe I will try it.
Just so you know -my great successes of late = 101cookbooks' sweet potato falafel, and blanched farmer's market asparagus with homemade mayonnaise. I never use the phrase 'OMG' but Oh my goodness asparagus from the farmer's market is so good! Hoping that this recipe is an omg too. Oh yes, and I want to try mark's cinnamon rolls this weekend. Seems like it will be nice to wake up to the rain and some of them.

Kim said...

We like the tomatoes an awful lot, I think that should be enough for you :p