BAKED PASTA WITH CARAMELIZED TOMATOES
Denise Lascourreges was out in the vineyards, harvesting grapes as fast as she could when she looked at her watch and shrieked. She had twenty harvesters coming to lunch in an hour. She tipped her grapes into a waiting container, ran to the house, and produced this dish.
"I had no idea what I was going to cook, but you know," she said, laughing, "it was simply delicious. I surprised myself."
It is simply delicious, and what makes it so are the tomato halves, which are lightly cooked in olive oil so their skins turn a golden color, their cut sides become lusciously seared. They produce a wonderful tart and caramel-like sauce which is sumptuous over pasta. Mme. Lascourreges served this dish with Gruyère cheese. I prefer it with Parmesan.
Serve with a Buzet or Sancerre Rouge.
4 to 6 servings
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5 good-size, slightly underripe tomatoes (see Note), cored
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled, halved, and green germ removed
1 cup (loosely packed) flat-leaf parsley leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 ounces (300 g) dried pasta, such as fettuccine
1/2 cup (60 g) finely grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally.
Place the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot but not smoking (when small ripples move over
its surface), add the tomatoes, cut side up. Cook, shifting them slightly n the pan to avoid scorching, until their
skin is slightly bubbled on the bottom and has a golden spot on it, about 4 minutes. Turn the tomatoes over and
continue cooking until the cut side is golden, about 6 minutes. Shake the pan two or three times to move the tomatoes
around so they don't burn.
While the tomatoes are cooking, finely mince the garlic and parsley together.
Turn the tomatoes again, so the cut side is up. Working around the tomatoes, scrape up any browned bits from the
bottom of the skillet. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the garlic and parsley, and season them generously with salt
and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium and cover the skillet. Cook the tomatoes until they are tender through and
the garlic is tender, about 10 minute, shaking the pan occasionally to prevent the tomatoes from sticking. The juice
from the tomatoes will turn a deep caramel color but it shouldn't burn.
While the tomatoes finish cooking, fill a large pot two-thirds full with salted water and bring it to a boil
(2 tablespoons salt for 4 quarts; 4 l water). Add the pasta, stir, and cook just until it is al dente, about
10 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup (250 ml) of the pasta cooking liquid. Return the pasta to the pot, pour half
the reserved cooking liquid over it, and toss so the pasta is thoroughly moistened.
Arrange the tomatoes around the edge of a large warmed platter. Deglaze the skillet with the remaining pasta
cooking liquid, scraping up any browned bits, and pour that over the pasta as well. Toss so the liquid is well
blended with the pasta. Transfer the pasta to the center of the serving platter, so it is surrounded with the
tomatoes. Serve immediately, with the Parmesan cheese alongside.
Note If the usual globe variety isn't at its peak, use plum tomatoes, cutting them in half lengthwise. If you do
have fresh garden tomatoes, pick them just before they turn ripe—their flavor and texture are best then,
particularly for a dish like this.