A week ago I finished the job that consumed most of my Summer and I had every intention of setting aside the first two weeks in October to sweet nothing: sightseeing with my mother, walks on the beach, sleeping late and cooking more. A little bit of a deserved vacation.
Now I am beginning to think 2015 has some sort of beef with me: why is it this year keeps on singling me out for all manners of unpleasant experiences? On my first day of vacation, I found myself battling the flu, the only good outcome of which was the shedding of the couple of pounds my mother’s cooking had contributed to my waistline. Just when I started feeling better, I had to confront another medical disaster that left me with even less appetite.
All I have been eating for the past week have been variations of toast and plain rice. Optimistically, I kept on loading my cart at the supermarket with vegetables that, once at home, I couldn’t even look at. But I was feeling bad about the last of the sweet cherry tomatoes I had planned to marry with some pasta.
Last week, on the phone with my sister, I could hear her boyfriend cooking in the background. I visualized my sister languidly sitting on the couch, dragging on a cigarette, while Giovanni slaved in the kitchen.
“What is he cooking?” I asked
“We are making…well, he is making” she corrected herself “past with cherry tomatoes.”
Giovanni is a very good cook and very proud of his recipes, which he loves to describe in detail. Through my sister, who would not relinquish the phone, he gave me the play by-play of this particular dish, which, like many dishes in Italian cuisine, is exquisitely simple and relies on the excellence of the two main ingredients: olive oil and cherry tomatoes.
For the first few years of living on my own, pasta with cherry tomatoes and mozzarella was a staple as there is no real cooking involved. But American mozzarella can be chewy and tasteless (and doesn’t melt right) and tomatoes are a hit and miss. A sure way of bringing the flavor to the forefront is to cook them ever so gently, until they start to break down and release some liquid which, mixed with a good, hearty olive oil, will create a perfect sauce.
Start by halving a basket of ripe cherry tomatoes, place them on a rimmed baking sheet and toss them with some good olive oil, salt and pepper and a sprinkle of oregano (or fresh basil).
Roast them in a 300F/170C oven for 40 minutes to an hour, until they start breaking down and release their juices.
In the meantime, boil some water, salt it and cook your pasta of choice. Once drained, toss the pasta with the tomatoes, their juices and some more olive oil. If you have some good mozzarella, this would be a good time to add it, cut up in small cubes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately with some good Parmesan, although this pasta is also good at room temperature.