Italian Easy: Pasta With Cherry Tomatoes and Herbed Ricotta


[Photographs: Deborah Mele]

The summer is beginning to wind down, and although I will be sorry to see it go, I'm thoroughly enjoying my bounty of end-of-summer tomatoes. This time of year, tomatoes are at their peak, equally delicious raw, cooked, or lightly touched by heat, as they are in this recipe. This is one of those quick and easy pasta dishes that can be completed from start to finish in under twenty minutes if you have everything on hand, making it a great option for a busy weeknight meal. Once you set the pasta water on to boil, you simply fry up some garlic in a little olive oil, add a touch of chili pepper, salt, and pepper. Add those halved cherry tomatoes into the pot and cook just a few minutes, until the tomatoes begin to soften, stir in some chopped basil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and the sauce is complete.

This is the sort of past dish that I think exemplifies the principles of Italian cuisine—it truly couldn't be simpler, but by using the very best, freshest ingredients, you can create an amazing dish in a matter of minutes. The tomatoes need to be very ripe, the basil and garlic fresh, and for this recipe it really does pay to use high-quality olive oil. This time of year, I always have a big bowl full of sweet cherry tomatoes sitting in my window because I prefer them to be as ripe as possible before I use them in any of my recipes. For this recipe, I prefer round cherry tomatoes, not the smaller grape tomatoes whose skins are firmer and more resistant to heat.


[Photographs: Deborah Mele]

I like to add a dollop of creamy herbed ricotta cheese to the dish just before serving, but it's by no means obligatory. I'm very lucky here in Umbria to have sheep's milk ricotta cheese readily available, but any top quality ricotta cheese will do. Look for one with nothing but milk, salt, and a starter or acid in the ingredients (avoid those with gums or stabilizers)—our favorite brand is Calabro.


A long strand pasta, such as spaghetti, works best for this recipe, but penne or fusilli will do in a pinch. Dried pasta is a better bet than fresh egg pasta, which tends to soak up the light sauce and leave the overall dish on the dry side. If you do choose to use fresh pasta, make sure to reserve a little of the pasta water to loosen the sauce a bit before you toss it with the cooked pasta.