The deep flavor and delightfully varied textures of this pasta dressing develop in the oven, where you bake the cherry tomatoes coated with bread crumbs just before you toss them with pasta. Roasting them this way intensifies their flavor, and the bread crumbs become crunchy. It is a lovely dish to make when sweet cherry tomatoes are in season, but it is also good with the lesser cherry-tomato varieties you get in winter; these can be used successfully here because of the concentration of taste and texture during baking. This dressing is suitable for almost any pasta, but I particularly like it with spaghetti, gemelli, or penne. But because the tomatoes are at their best as soon as they come out of the oven, the dressing and pasta should be cooked simultaneously, and I have written the recipe to ensure that you will have your pasta and baked tomatoes ready for each other at the same time.
- 3 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ⅓ cup fine dry bread crumbs
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta pot
- ¼ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
- 1 pound spaghetti, gemelli, or penne
- 10 plump garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, shredded
- ½ cup freshly grated pecorino (or half pecorino and half Grana Padano), plus more for passing
- 4 ounces ricotta or ricotta salata
You will need a large, rimmed sheet pan lined with parchment paper; a large pot, 8-quart capacity, for cooking the pasta; a heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, 12-inch diameter or larger.
Arrange a rack in the center of the oven, and heat to 350 degrees. Toss the cherry-tomato halves in a large bowl with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Sprinkle over tomatoes the bread crumbs, salt, and peperoncino; toss well to coat the tomatoes evenly. Pour the tomatoes onto the parchment-lined sheet, and spread them apart in a single layer. Bake until the tomatoes are shriveled and lightly caramelized (but not dried out), about 25 minutes in all.
Meanwhile, fill the large pot with salted water, and heat to a rolling boil. When the tomatoes are nearly done, drop the pasta into the pot, stir, and return the water to a boil.
As soon as the pasta is cooking, pour the remaining olive oil into the big skillet, set it over medium- high heat, and scatter in the sliced garlic. Cook for a minute or two, until it is sizzling and lightly colored, then ladle in about 2 cups of the pasta cooking water, and bring to a vigorous boil, stirring up the garlic. Let half the water evaporate, then lower the heat, stir in the chopped parsley, and keep the sauce barely simmering.
As soon as the tomatoes are done, remove them from the oven. When the pasta is al dente, lift it from the water, drain for a moment, and drop it into the skillet, still over low heat. Toss pasta quickly with the garlic-and- parsley sauce in the pan, then slide the baked tomatoes on top of the pasta. Scatter the basil shreds all over, and toss everything together well, until the pasta is evenly dressed and the tomatoes are distributed throughout.
Turn off the heat, sprinkle on the grated cheese, and toss once more. Mound the pasta in a warmed serving bowl. Shred the ricotta all over the top of the pasta, and serve immediately.