Growing up Italian, our family always sat down to a pasta meal after Sunday mass. I smile when I think of how my mother would bring the ‘sauce pot’ up from the refrigerator in the basement and warm up or augment the sauce early Sunday morning. My brother and I were never allowed to taste or eat any of the simmering sauce or yummy meatballs prior to church…some apparent rule that we were not allowed to eat for a few hours prior to communion. We tried seven ways to Sunday to convince our mother to at least have a taste – the wonderful aroma of the simmering sauce wafting throughout the house was enough to send us drooling into the kitchen. But she always stood her ground…nothing before mass. As my father pulled the car into the driveway after church, we would be halfway out of the car racing into the kitchen to have small bowls of sauce until lunch was ready. And Sundays were always pasta and meatball day. I can’t remember ever having anything different (Joey, my dear brother, can you?) but my mother’s amazing tomato sauce and huge meatballs never lost their allure for me. Occasionally, there was homemade ravioli or gnocchi but it was usually the standard ‘Number 9’ and that perfectly seasoned tomato sauce with delicious meatballs the size of baseballs. My father always wore a white short sleeve shirt on Sundays and we would giggle as the red sauce would hit my dad’s white shirt – never fail. Happy memories. So Sundays always feel like pasta day for me – comfort in a bowl. Today was no exception – except I lightened things up a bit with a roasted tomato, shiitake and ricotta sauce. Dad would have been proud. Mom would have been asking what happened to the meatballs. Enjoy!
Penne with Roasted Tomatoes, Shiitakes and Ricotta
(Penne con Pomodori al Forno, Funghi e Ricotta)
1 pint basket of cherry tomatoes, halved
6 tablespoons, divided
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon peperoncino flakes
1 pound pasta of choice (I like penne or rigatoni with this sauce)
3 cloves of garlic, diced
1 pound of fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and sliced
1/4 cup ricotta
6-8 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips (chiffonade cut)
1 large bowl, 1 large baking sheet or glass baking dish, 1 large pot for cooking the pasta, 1 large skillet
- Position the rack in the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a large bowl, toss together the tomatoes, 2 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, salt and peperoncino. Place the tomatoes on the baking sheet and place in the oven.
- Roast until the tomatoes are tender and slightly brown and caramelized – about 25 minutes. If tomatoes finish before the pasta, turn oven off and let tomatoes rest in oven to keep warm.
- While the tomatoes are in the oven, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until ‘al dente’.
- While the pasta is cooking, in a large skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add in the diced garlic and saute just until soft being careful not to let it burn. Add in the sliced shiitake mushrooms and stir to combine. Saute for 3 or 4 minutes until soft. Set aside.
- Drain the pasta – RESERVE 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.
- Either in a large warmed serving bowl or in the pot which was used to cook the pasta, combine the pasta, the shitake-garlic mixture, the roasted tomatoes and ricotta.
- Stir to combine. Add in enough pasta water to make a creamy pasta sauce. Stir in the fresh basil. Adjust seasonings
- Serve warm! Enjoy!