As the days get lighter, I find my cooking does too. During the cold dark days of winter, I can be found hunkering down in the kitchen, braising short ribs, simmering rich ragu, making hearty stews and soups and eating indulgent creamy pasta dishes. With the warmer weather and lighter evenings, I’m less inclined to spend hours in the kitchen and I want to take advantage of the colorful spring vegetables that appear at the farmers market.
I spotted these delightful still-on-the-vine cherry tomatoes and started thinking about a light pasta dish with fresh spring/summer flavors. I saw ricotta salata on the cheese counter and that reminded me of Amanda Hesser’s lemony pasta recipe. I picked up fresh basil and pea shoots and headed home excited to see how they’d all come together.
The cherry tomatoes were carefully roasted in a blistering hot oven and as soon as they were cool enough to handle I slipped the skins off (you don’t have to do this but they’ll melt into the sauce easier and taste juicier). Chicken stock was bubbled to reduce down with a couple of smashed garlic cloves and lemon juice and a knob of butter swirled in to make a light and refreshing sauce. The pea shoots didn’t even see the inside of a pan, the heat of the pasta wilted them (arugula would also work well here) and the whole dish was showered with wafer thin slices of ricotta salata.
If you’ve never had ricotta salata you’re missing out. Ricotta salata is a hard white cured and pressed version of fresh ricotta with and a mild salty, nutty and milky flavor. It can be shaved or grated over salads, pastas and vegetable dishes.
Light summer pasta with blistered cherry tomatoes, pea shoots and ricotta salata
Very loosely adapted from Amanda Hesser
2 servings of your favorite pasta, I used Cipriani tagliatelle, it’s so light and thin
3 cups unsalted chicken broth
2 cloves of garlic – squished but not minced or completely crushed
Wedge of ricotta salata 2-4 oz
8-12 Cherry tomatoes, ideally on the vine
Splash of olive oil
1 large lemon or 2 small lemons
Bunch of basil – finely chopped (chiffonade) or torn
Pea shoots (can substitute in fresh peas or arugula or even baby spinach)
1 tbsp butter
Optional; thinly sliced radish for a crunchy garnish
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet (ideally rimmed as the tomatoes can leak juice while cooking) with foil or parchment paper for easier clean up. Place cherry tomatoes on baking sheet, drizzle over a little olive oil and season.
2. Bake cherry tomatoes until blistered and skins are just starting to turn black. 10-20 minutes. Optional – once cool, gently slip the blistered skins off for a more elegant presentation.
3. While tomatoes are baking, over a high heat, bubble the unsalted chicken stock with the garlic until reduced by half. Reduce heat to lowest setting.
4. Put pan of salted water on to boil for pasta.
5. With a sharp knife or mandolin, slice the ricotta salata into paper thin slices (or crumble)
6. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and add to the reduced chicken broth. Squeeze in the juice of the lemon and the butter. Add the basil. Toss vigorously. Taste and add as much or as little salt and pepper as you like. I season this dish fairly agressively as it’ll really bring out the lemony flavors.
7. Line the warmed bowls with the pea shoots, add the pasta/pea shoots and add a couple of spoons of the broth. Add the ricotta salata, the cherry tomatoes and the sliced radish if using.. Enjoy!
It’s a quick and easy swap of chicken stock to vegetable stock to make this dish vegetarian.
You don’t have to serve the cherry tomatoes on the vine, I just thought they looked prettier this way! Once I’d taken the picture, I popped them off the vine and smushed them into the sauce. Yum.
If you can’t find ricotta salata you could substitute parmigiano regiano or pecorino but it would be a completely different dish with much more cheese flavor.
If pea shoots aren’t in season you could add frozen peas to the pasta water for the last minute and then drain them with the pasta.
If you’d like a little more protein, add grilled shrimp (especially good with the lemony broth) or grilled chicken.