To say this was the best thing we’ve eaten in a long time would be an understatement. This was by far the best pasta dish I’ve had in recent memory. It’s 10:22 on Sunday morning and I’m salivating just thinking about it. The red pesto (sundried tomato pesto) is divine, the roasted cherry tomatoes are practically candy, and the goat cheese is just the icing on the cake.
The crazy thing is, I never liked tomatoes until about this time last year. It was then we discovered the treasure trove of heirloom tomatoes at the Farmers’ Market. A good, ripe heirloom tomato will convert even the harshest of tomato critics. Now, just a measly 12 months after that discovery, our grocery cart is consistently filled with 3 or 4 different kinds of tomatoes each week (who’d a thunk?). Right behind the heirloom tomatoes, my favorites are the bite sized cherry tomatoes.
This week the farmers market had some yellow ones in addition to the normal red, and we thought they’d be perfect for this dish. I think using good tomatoes makes all the difference in the world. Because while barely ripe hot house tomatoes might suffice in the depths of winter, in the summer, you’re crazy not to make the most of the bounty available to you. Locally grown, vine ripened, perfectly plump and juicy… Tennessee tomatoes just might be the greatest thing ever. Well, right behind cupcakes. And goat cheese.
16 oz. penne pasta
2 ounces sundried tomatoes
2 medium cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
3 handfuls of baby spinach tossed with a glug of olive oil and a big pinch of salt.
2/3 cup oven-roasted cherry tomatoes
a bit of crumbled goat cheese
To oven-roast cherry tomatoes: Heat oven to 350F degrees. Cut each tomato in half and arrange in a large oven-proof baking dish. Mix together a big splash of olive oil, a spoonful of brown sugar, and a few pinches of salt. Pour this over the tomatoes. Gently toss them a bit, making sure they all get coated. Arrange tomatoes cut-side up. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes or so, until the tomatoes are shrunken and sweet.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously and cook the penne per package instructions. Drain, but reserve about one cup of the hot pasta water (important!).
In the meantime, make the sun-dried tomato pesto by pulsing the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, pepper flakes, olive oil, thyme, and salt in a food processor until it comes together into a textured crumble. Add the walnuts, and pulse a few more times – see photo. Set aside.
Combine 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water in a large mixing bowl along with two-thirds of the sun-dried tomato pesto. Add the pasta and gently toss. Add more of the hot pasta water if needed to thin the pesto out – it should make a nice chunky sauce. Taste and add more of the pesto if you like – it’s really a matter of personal preference at this point.
Arrange the baby spinach on a large platter and top with everything from the pasta mixing bowl. Top with the cherry tomatoes and a bit of crumbled goat cheese.