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Fresh Linguine with Heirloom Tomatoes, Ricotta Salata, and Basil Pesto

Updated February 23, 2016
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This image courtesy of JosephDeLeo.cookstr.com

This flexible recipe accommodates any variety of tomatoes; in fact, it's best with a mix of the full spectrum from pale yellow to bright red. The tomatoes' flavor is perked up first by marinating and then by contact with the hot pasta, which also unlocks the full aromatic power of the basil. It's no exaggeration to say that this dish will smell of the season when it arrives at the table. Often, either Parmigiano or pecorino will do just fine as a grating cheese for pasta dishes. This recipe, however, also calls for ricotta salata, a gently salted sheep's-milk cheese. Try to find one from Sicily, where it was first produced, that has been aged for at least one year. This ricotta salata is harder than the rest and is intended specifically for grating.

Flavor Building

Stir in some diced cooked lobster meat just before serving. Steamed mussels in their shells would also be a logical addition. Arrange them decoratively atop the pasta in the serving bowl. Strain the steaming liquid, and stir some into the sauce. Olives and saffron are age-old complements to shellfish: add ½ cup pitted Nicoise olives and/or a pinch of saffron while heating the sauce.

Serves6 as an appetizer or 4 as a main course

CostModerate

Moderate

Total Timeunder 1 hour

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

OccasionBuffet, Casual Dinner Party, Cooking for a date, Family Get-together

Recipe Courseappetizer, main course

Dietary Considerationhalal, kosher, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free, vegetarian

Equipmentfood processor

Mealdinner

Moodromantic

Taste and Texturecheesy, chewy, garlicky, herby, nutty, salty, savory, sweet, tangy, umami

Type of Dishfresh pasta, pasta

Ingredients

  • 2½ pounds heirloom tomatoes, a multicolored mix of yellow, orange, red, green, and/or purple
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 1 teaspoon aged red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • Coarse salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces fresh linguine
  • 4 ounces aged ricotta salata, coarsely grated
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 2 tablespoons Basil Pesto (recipe follows) or basil chiffonade
  • 1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 cups (packed) basil leaves
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • About ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup pine nuts, ground in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle
  • ½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper, optional
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt
  • Several grindings of black pepper

Instructions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and fill a large bowl halfway with ice water. Remove the tomatoes' stems, cutting out a small circle of skin around them. Cut a small, shallow X on the bottom of each tomato, just deep enough to puncture the skin. Lower the tomatoes into the boiling water for 10 to 20 seconds, depending on their ripeness. (The riper the tomato, the less time is required.) Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the tomatoes to the ice water. As the tomatoes cool, the skin will begin to pull away from the flesh. Peel the tomatoes (the skin should come right off with the aid of a paring knife), halve them crosswise, and squeeze out the seeds. Cut the flesh into large dice and set aside.

In a bowl that is large enough to hold all of the ingredients, gather the tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, shallots, and both vinegars. Toss, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. While the pasta is cooking, taste the tomatoes and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Drain the pasta, add it to the tomatoes, and toss to combine.

Use tongs to serve the pasta from the bowl, topping each serving with a good mix of tomatoes, then finishing it with some ricotta salata, parsley, Parmigiano, and a dollop of pesto.

For the Basil Pesto:

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a bowl halfway with ice water. In a small bowl, moisten the bread crumbs with the cream.

Add the basil leaves to the boiling water and blanch for 15 seconds. Strain them, then plunge them into the ice water to stop the cooking and preserve their bright color.

Gently squeeze as much excess moisture as possible from the basil leaves and place them in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the garlic and ¼ cup of the olive oil. Process, adding some of the remaining oil if necessary, until the mixture is smooth and thick. Add the bread crumb-cream mixture, pine nuts, cheese, cayenne pepper, if using, salt, and black pepper. Process once again until smooth. Taste, and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Transfer the pesto a smal1 bowl, and if not serving it immediately, cover it with plastic wrap, laying the film directly on the surface of the pesto.

VARIATIONS

This pasta is equally delicious cold, which makes it an ideal dish for late-summer picnics.

The shaved ricotta salata can be replaced with crumbled fresh goat cheese or Roquefort.

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