Pasta with Baked Tomato Sauce

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I used to grow tomato plants in my yard until we moved to this house. Now I buy tomatoes at the farmers market, or use canned. Natural elements have made gardening a challenge on this property. For one thing, we have a huge Norway maple which casts deep shade over much of the back yard. For another, we have a whole lot of squirrels.

I tried growing a cherry tomato plant in a pot on our deck this summer, but sadly will not harvest one single fruit because the squirrels pick them off before they even ripen and leave the carcasses all around for me to step on. Squirrels have also eaten all my peony flowers, rose blooms and geranium blossoms, and, even more frustrating, have developed a fondness for our plastic wicker deck furniture, chewing off just enough to break the weave here and there. Soon they will collapse. What is going on? There are so many of the little critters flying through the branches and skittering across the deck at all hours of the day, boldly looking me in the eye, little ones, big ones, black ones, brown ones. I have a sinking feeling they’re nesting somewhere in our rafters, and I’ll hear them scampering around through the ceiling one winter afternoon as I’m peacefully reading by the fire.

Anyway, back to tomatoes. When a friend appeared at our door the other morning with a bowl of cherry tomatoes just picked from her garden, I was overjoyed. Yes, I popped some into my mouth just the way they were, relishing that squirt of fresh sweetness. But then I headed straight to the kitchen to make my favourite fresh tomato pasta, a tried-and-true recipe from Italian cookbook author Nancy Harmon Jenkins, adapted slightly and found here: Epicurious.

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This pasta is outstanding, and easy. Tomatoes with olive oil, garlic, basil and cheese is classic combination, but the crunch of the toasted bread crumbs takes it to another level. Jenkins calls for fusilli or farfalle, but any short pasta, or plain old spaghetti, will work. Note: For a really decadent dish, try doubling the amount of oil, bread crumbs, cheese and garlic in the recipe, and maybe throwing in a bit more pasta.

Pasta with Baked Tomato Sauce
Ingredients
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound very ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ⅓ cup plain dry bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino cheese (or, if you don’t have this, just more Parmigiano)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 pound dried fusilli (corkscrew), farfalle (bow ties), linguine or spaghetti
  • ¼ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with one-third of the oil. Place the tomatoes cut side up in the dish.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, cheeses, and garlic, and toss with a fork to mix well. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the tomatoes, making sure that each cut side is well covered with the crumb mixture. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until the tomatoes are cooked through and starting to brown on top, about 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente. Time the pasta so it finishes cooking about the time the tomatoes are ready to come out of the oven.
  4. When the tomatoes are done, add the basil and stir to mix everything into a sauce. Drain the pasta and immediately transfer it to the baking dish. Add the remaining olive oil and mix well. Serve at once.

Serves 4.

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