Fresh tomato sauces are wonderful in the summer, but as tomato season heads south for the cooler months, it's always a good idea to have a roasted tomato sauce up your sleeve. A slow roast in the oven takes even the most middling tomatoes to the next level by concentrating all of their great sweet tomato-iness. This plate of Mafaldine with Roasted Tomatoes, Robiola, and Crushed Fennel Seeds from Domenica Marchetti's Bolognese from The Glorious Pasta of Italy takes that roasted tomato sauce to an even more thrilling place by pairing it with some unlikely but incredible partners: fennel seeds and robiola cheese.
Marchetti slow roasts her Romas with thin sliced garlic, salt, olive oil, and a sprinkling of sweetly licorice-scented fennel seeds. It might seem like an improbably pairing at first, but when the tomatoes come out of the oven filled flavored through with fennel, you'll understand that the should be spending way more time together in the kitchen.
The second unlikely bedfellow in this pasta is robiola, a soft-ripened cheese that's creamy, mild, and in this case perfectly melty when tossed with hot pasta and roasted tomatoes. The little cubes of the cheese half melt, coating the pasta and tomatoes with a distinct dairy richness.
We've got to hand it to Marchetti—we never would have matched tomatoes, fennel seeds, and robiola, but man, are we glad that she did.
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of The Glorious Pasta of Italy to give away this week.
- 2 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 large cloves garlic, sliced paper-thin
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed
- Kosher or fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound dried mafaldine, pappardelle, or fettuccine
- 8 ounces robiola cheese, cut into bite-sized chunks
Heat the oven to 275°F. Arrange the tomato halves, cut side up, on a large rimmed baking sheet and drizzle the olive oil over them. Scatter the garlic slices and fennel seeds over the tomatoes, and season with a generous sprinkling of salt and a few grinds of pepper.
Roast the tomatoes for 3 to 4 hours, or until they have begun to collapse and are caramelized but are not dry. They should have some shriveling but still look juicy. Let them sit until they are cool enough to handle. Then chop them coarsely and transfer them to a warmed serving bowl, along with any oil and juices left in the pan. Keep warm.
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously. Add the pasta, stir to separate the noodles, and cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.
Transfer the pasta to the serving bowl and strew the robiola pieces over it. Toss gently to combine the pasta, tomatoes, and cheese thoroughly, taking care to break apart any large chunks of cheese that stick together. Add a little of the hot cooking water to the bowl to help melt the cheese a bit but not too much—you want some pieces in there. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if you like. Serve immediately.