Pasta and ricotta make for a perfect impromptu meal or weekend dinner. The mellow flavor combination of tomato, ricotta and a bit of parmesan cheese is vaguely reminiscent of southern-style lasagna. But, like many simple pasta dishes, it’ll be done in less than 30 minutes—the time it takes to bring the water to the boil and cook your pasta.
Serves 4-6 people
- 400-500g (3/4- 1 lb.) of short pasta (see Notes)
- 200-250g (7-8 oz.) of canned tomatoes, whole or crushed, or passata (see Notes)
- A garlic clove, peeled and slightly crushed
- Olive oil
- 250-300g (7-8 oz.) of ricotta (or to taste)
- Salt, to taste
- Grated parmesan cheese (to taste)
- A fresh basil leaf or two
Put the water on the boil for the pasta.
Meanwhile, begin your sauce: add the tomato, a drizzle of olive oil, the whole garlic clove, the basil (if using) and a pinch of salt to a heavy saucepan or pot and let it simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, just enough to lightly cook the tomato and meld the flavors—or, if you like you can keep it at the barest simmer until the pasta is done. Remove the garlic clove.
When the water comes to a boil, salt it generously. Then add your pasta and cook it al dente.
When the pasta is done, drain it—but not too well—and add it to the pot with the tomato sauce over very gentle heat. Mix well, then add a few dollops of ricotta, enough to coat the pasta nicely but not enough to ‘bury’ it. I usually don’t measure, I just mix the pasta after adding each dollop to see if I need more and keep adding until I reach the consistency I want. Add a bit of the pasta water if the mixture seems too thick. Then add grated parmesan (a spoonful per person should do) and mix again. Taste and adjust for seasoning. (Remember, ricotta is rather bland and you’ll need to season well.)
Top your pasta and ricotta with some more grated parmesan cheese if you like, and serve immediately.
This sauce goes with almost any kind of short pasta. I think rigatoni or paccheri are particularly nice made this way. In Puglia, they would use orecchiette. I’ve also tried curly lasagna noodles (sometimes called reginette) and broke them into short lengths, and liked them, too.
The simple tomato sauce can be made from canned tomatoes that you have squeezed between your fingers (if they are of proper quality, they should melt down in no time into a sauce) or crushed tomatoes (which will give you a more assertive tomato flavor) or sieved tomatoes in jars, known as passata di pomodoro. You may have noticed that, exceptionally, this tomato sauce does not begin by frying the garlic in oil. Instead, you just add the garlic and oil, raw, directly into the tomatoes. Angelina used to make tomato sauce this way sometimes. It makes for a lighter, mellower tasting sauce, with just the barest hint of garlic, which is just what you want here to complement the delicate flavor of the ricotta.
You can also make pasta and ricotta entirely in bianco—just add the ricotta to the cooked pasta with salt and some of the pasta water. It’s surprisingly good. Now that’s what I call simple but delicious cooking!