Any excuse to eat ripe tomatoes in season is a good one, but the best reason to check out this delicious vegetarian recipe is that it gives you the chance to sample and support some of the wonderful artisanal cheeses—including homemade fresh goat cheese—now being produced all over the U.S.
Taking a belated cue from the Europeans, small-time American entrepreneurs began to produce great local cheeses about 35 years ago. These producers include people like Miles and Lillian Cahn. After making an international name for their Coach leather company, the Cahns sold out and established a brand new and equally lofty reputation for themselves as producers of goat cheese. Now, Coach Farm goat cheese is not only recognized as a leader in the artisanal cheese movement in America but as an important employer in rural Columbia County, New York.
A key element in this recipe is the use of pasta cooking liquid, a technique we learned from the Italians. They know that water in which pasta has been cooked is slightly starchy—and that this starch will connect the pasta to the sauce without compromising the flavor of the dish.
This dish is best eaten right seaway. You can make all the parts—except for the pasta—way ahead of time and just throw it together at the last minute. (The slow-roasted tomatoes are also great in other roles—as part of an antipasto in the summertime, as an omelet filling, or as a topping on grilled bread.)
I know, of course, that goat cheese is one of those foods you either love or hate. I love it, but if you are a hater, just use another soft, meltable cheese in its place.
2 pounds red and yellow cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
6 ounces fresh goat cheese
1 pound penne
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
Additional kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Serves 4 to 6
Preheat the oven to 250°F and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Halve each tomato and place cut side up in one flat layer on the baking sheets. Drizzle the tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and sprinkle on the salt. Roast until the tomatoes are dried around the edges but still moist, about 2 hours.
Crumble the goat cheese into large chunks and refrigerate until ready to serve the pasta.
Cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to the package directions. Remove 1 cup of the cooking liquid and reserve. Drain the pasta well and return to the pot. Add the tomatoes, goat cheese, basil, reserved cooking liquid and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Toss well and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm.