This dish is finished in an unusual manner that at first surprised me. But it is so practical, and the results so delectable, that it is one of my treasured discoveries from Puglia. The dressing is essentially completed in advance—fresh plum tomatoes roasted with seasoned bread crumbs. When you are ready to eat, just slide these intensely savory tomatoes on top of the fusilli in a big bowl and toss; the steaming pasta, just out of the pot, does the final cooking all by itself.
- ½ cup dried bread crumbs, coarsely crushed
- 2 tablespoons small capers, drained and chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, about 6 large leaves (packed tight to measure)
- ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt plus more for the pasta pot
- ½ teaspoon peperoncino
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1-1/3 cups freshly grated Canestrato Pugliese or Pecorino Romano
- 10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or more as needed
- 1-1/2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes
- 2 plump garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 pound long fusilli (sometimes packaged as fusilli lunghi)
Set a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 375°. (If using a convection oven, which roasts the tomatoes well, set the thermostat to 350°.
Put the bread crumbs in a medium size bowl and mix in the chopped capers, 1 tablespoon of chopped basil, ½ teaspoon salt, the peperoncino, oregano and 1/3 cup of grated cheese. Drizzle 4 tablespoons of the olive oil over the crumbs, tossing to moisten and mix thoroughly.
Rinse and dry the tomatoes and slice them in half, lengthwise. Oil the baking sheet lightly with a bit of the olive oil. Working over the bowl of bread crumbs, cover the cut side of each tomato half with a layer of the crumb mixture—a tablespoon, more or less, depending on the size of the tomatoes. Compress the crumbs lightly so they stay on and set the tomato (crumbs up) on the baking sheet. Use up all the crumbs, topping all the tomatoes equally. Separate the tomatoes as much as possible on the sheet, so all sides are exposed to the heat, drizzle a little more olive oil over each and put the sheet in the oven.
Now, pour 4 more tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl, drop in the garlic slices and let steep—you’ll use the infused oil for dressing the pasta .
Roast the tomatoes for 30 minutes or until the crumbs are nicely browned and the halves are slightly shriveled. Remove the sheet from the oven and let the tomatoes cool for 15 minutes or so, then slice each one lengthwise, right through the crumbs, making 2 narrow wedges. If the tomatoes are fat, slice the roasted halves into 3 or 4 wedges that will be easy to toss with the pasta. With a wide spatula, loosen the cut tomatoes and slide them together on the sheet, so you can transfer them to the pasta bowl easily and quickly.
Meanwhile, heat 6 quarts of water with 1 tablespoon salt to the boil in the large pot. Drop in the long fusilli and cook until the strands are al dente, as you like to eat them. In this dish, the pasta does not cook longer with the dressing in a hot skillet: instead, the heat of the pasta cooks the dressing when they’re tossed in the bowl.
Have the big bowl near the stove and heat it with some boiling water from the pasta cooking pot before the fusilli are done (remember to pour out the heating water). When the pasta is perfectly cooked, lift it out with tongs, drain off the moisture for a moment, and drop it into the warm bowl.
Immediately scatter the garlic-infused olive oil (and the garlic slices) all over the pasta and toss well. Slide all the wedges of roast tomato off the sheet and on top of the hot fusilli. Toss well to disperse the tomatoes and seasoned crumbs and dress all the pasta. Sprinkle the remaining chopped basil over and toss in. Finally, toss in the grated cheese and serve right away, in warm bowls.