Garden cooking: Linguine with tomatoes, ricotta and basil

Tomatoes and basil from the garden (or the farmers market) combine with ricotta cheese and linguine for a quick, creamy vegetarian dinner.

Blue Kitchen
Ricotta melts into a deliciously creamy sauce when combined with a little pasta water in the pan. Add to fresh linguine and summer tomatoes.

It’s August, and that can only mean one thing. Food websites and blogs everywhere are telling you how to use up all the tomatoes that are filling your garden, CSA (community-supported agriculture) box or farmers' market. Sounds good to me. Here’s a quick, simple pasta dish that will also help you use up some of your excess fresh basil.

As the Italians long ago figured out, tomatoes and basil are pretty much made for each other. Another summer favorite of ours is a salsa cruda pasta dish with tomatoes, basil and garlic in which only the pasta is cooked. It warms the raw sauce and the sauce cools the pasta, making it perfect for hot summer evenings.

Mozzarella also frequently shows up when tomatoes and basil get together – think caprese salad. We love that combo, but I went with ricotta cheese for this dish. Ricotta’s slightly sweet flavor means it frequently shows up in desserts, but that same mild sweetness melts into a deliciously creamy sauce when combined with a little pasta water in the pan.

For tomatoes, use whatever you have on hand, from cherry tomatoes to beefsteaks. I used a mix of the red and gold tomatoes Marion grew this year. For cherry tomatoes, halve them. For larger tomatoes, cut them into large chunks (they will break down as they cook). Don’t seed them or drain the juices from them; that all becomes part of the sauce.

Linguine with Tomatoes, Ricotta and Basil
 Serves 4

1-1/2 pounds tomatoes, cut into large chunks
 olive oil
 1 to 2 large cloves garlic, minced
 freshly ground black pepper
 salt
 1/2 cup ricotta cheese (I used partially skim)
 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

12 ounces uncooked linguine or other long pasta

1. Start a large pot of water to cook the pasta. While water is heating, combine tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil, garlic and a generous grind of black pepper in a large bowl and gently stir. Set aside. Do not add salt at this point; it will leech moisture from the tomatoes.

2. Cook the pasta for about 2 minutes less than the package directions call for, just short of al dente. Reserve 1-1/2 cups of pasta water when you drain it.

3. Meanwhile, cook the tomatoes. Warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the tomatoes and garlic to the pan and season with a little salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 to 6 minutes. The tomato chunks will begin to collapse and release their juices.

4. Add cooked pasta to the pan, along with the ricotta cheese and 3/4 to 1 cup reserved pasta water. Toss to combine, making sure to stir the ricotta into the pan juices. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly. Remove from heat and stir in basil. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Divide among 4 shallow bowls and serve.

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