Rigatoni with roasted cherry tomatoes, arugula, and crisp bread

(Jonathan Levitt for The Boston Globe)
October 28, 2009

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Serves 4

The weather is cooler and that’s the end of garden tomatoes - at least for the ripe ones. It’s back to the market, back to cans. Canned tomatoes are good for many things, including sauces, braises, and soups. But there’s something about fresh tomatoes (even those that are shipped from far, far away) that enhance cooking. Fresh tomatoes brighten a dish in a way that no tinned tomato can. In the off-season, however, stick with cherry tomatoes. They’re small and shiny red, and more likely to be at least almost ripe. Cook the little cherry or grape shapes in a skillet of hot oil to concentrate their sweetness and break down their skins. For a fall pasta dish that feels very sunny, add a spoonful of honey and crushed red pepper to the pan. Serve them on top of rigatoni with peppery raw arugula (best in fall), fresh ricotta, and pieces of crispy bread browned in hot oil. All of these things taste good on their own, and even better when combined one forkful at a time.

4 slices stale Italian bread, torn into irregular 2-inch pieces
5 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 pound rigatoni
20 cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1/2 pound fresh ricotta
1 bunch arugula, stems removed
Extra olive oil (for sprinkling)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan (for serving)
1. Wet the slices of stale bread under the faucet for a moment. Place the bread in a colander set over a bowl. Press the bread with your fingers to wring out the excess water.

2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Place the bread in the pan and toss to coat it in the oil. Cook for 10 minutes, turning several times, until the bread is crisp and golden on both sides. Remove the bread from the pan and wipe out the skillet.

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the rigatoni and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes or until the pasta is tender but still has some bite. Drain into a colander. Transfer to a bowl. Toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.

4. Meanwhile, in the skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the cherry or grape tomatoes, honey, red pepper, salt, and black pepper. Cook, stirring, for 10 minutes or until the tomatoes burst.

5. In a large bowl, toss the rigatoni with a ladle of the tomato mixture.

6. Divide the rigatoni among 4 large bowls or plates. Arrange the tomatoes, ricotta, arugula, and bread around the pasta. Sprinkle the ricotta and arugula with olive oil. Sprinkle the dish with salt, pepper, and Parmesan. Jonathan Levitt