Pasta Ponza

Wait for it…. go!  I dash for the sink where I scoop up a big clump of freshly cooked pasta and try to navigate it into my mouth before I got caught.

I guess my Italian heritage runs strong, as I’ve always had a strong love for pasta.  In fact, you might call it an addiction.  No matter what time of year, pasta always has a place on my menu.  I remember my mum cooking her homemade spaghetti and the smell of fresh garlic and leeks throughout the house, no matter how much I try to replicate it never seems to come out the same.  During the summers, I would load up on pasta carbonara the night before a big swim meet, hoping the pasta gods would help me pop my time and qualify for the county swim meet.   While the ratio of sauce to pasta has changed over the years, the aroma and flavor of a warm bowl of pasta will always be the same.  I’ll eventually share all my favorite pasta dishes, but the one I have today is something you can whip up on the busiest of nights, and I promise you wont go to bed hungry.

If you’ve ever picked up a container of bright cherry and pear-shaped yellow tomatoes and couldn’t resist buying 2 or 3 cartons, then this recipe’s for you. Their sweet, crisp flavor breathes summer, and they’re the main ingredient in pasta ponza. Part of the attraction of this recipe is its adorable name. Wouldn’t it make you smile to say (even to yourself) that you’re going home to make ‘pasta ponza’ for dinner?

The sauce gets most of its flavor from combining several varieties of tomatoes. The recipe suggests half red cherry and half yellow cherry tomatoes, but you could use any combination you’d like.  The sauce is so simple, you start by placing the tomatoes and capers in a baking dish, drizzling them with olive oil, sprinkling them with seasoned bread crumbs and roasting the mixture in the oven for about 30 minutes.  Done, that’s it!  I know, could this be any easier?!?

When it’s ready, the breadcrumbs will be golden-brown and crunchy, and the tomatoes will be slightly broken down, juicy and very intense.  Once added to the pasta, the salty bite of the Pecorino-Romano really brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes, and the breadcrumb topping coats each piece of pasta with mild Italian herbs and creamy cheese.

This is a staple in my busy workweek, and it’s just as good the next day for lunch.  Quick tip: when you reheat it the following day, add a splash of water to the bowl to get the sauce back to its creamy consistency.

This recipe is inspired by Giada De Laurentiis, and of course I tweaked it to make it my own, and I encourage you to do the same.

Ingredients

  • Butter for greasing
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) red cherry or grape tomatoes cut into halves
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) yellow cherry or grape tomatoes cut into halves
  • 1/3 cup capers, rinsed, drained and roughly chopped (if you really like capers throw in a few more, I usually do)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1/2 cup Italian-style seasoned breadcrumbs (plain breadcrumbs are too bland, I really recommend these, and if you can;t find them throw in a handful of Italian seasoning to give it some flavor)
  • 1 pound ziti or other short tube-shaped pasta
  • 1 1/4 cups Pecorino Romano or Asiago cheese, grated (Please don’t buy the cheese in a green can, buy the good stuff, you’ll thank me later)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or parsley
  • If you need to make this pasta more appealing to a meat-loving loved one, feel free to add grilled chicken, Italian sausage or crumbled bacon.

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish.
  • Place the tomatoes, capers, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in the prepared baking dish. Toss to coat. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the tomato mixture. Drizzle the top with olive oil and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the top is golden.
  • Cool for 5 minutes.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat (add the salt after it’s boiling so it flavors the pasta… go, on, throw in a small handful, do it!).
  • Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water to add later when creating the sauce.
  • Place the pasta in a large serving bowl. Spoon the tomato mixture on the pasta. Add the cheese and toss well. Add a little of the pasta water to help create a sauce, it helps the cheese melt and coat the pasta tubes.
  • Sprinkle with the chopped basil and more cheese and serve immediately.
  • Return for seconds!
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