Weeknight Cooking: Orecchiette with Salsa Cruda and Ricotta

I’m not opposed to a last-minute change of dinner plans, due to being swept up and away by an exciting new recipe. What can I say, I like the adventure. That’s why I put the epicurious.com “Recipe of the Day” in my reader. Every day, a new contender for my kitchen appears. While some of them can seem a little too outlandish for a weeknight dinner, once in a while, a gem arises.

Yesterday’s recipe did that to me, and I rushed out to the store to pick up the ingredients.

Oreccchiette with Salsa Cruda and Ricotta – photo courtesy of Epicurious

We’re nearing the end of the summer – it’s far too warm and I’m feeling far too lazy to cook up an elaborate meal that sticks to your ribs. If you have tomato plants and you’re looking for something to do with them, this is it.

Orecchiette with Salsa Cruda and Ricotta
1 medium shallot, minced
2 small garlic cloves, forced through a garlic press
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, chopped
1/4 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
1/3 cup coarsely chopped basil
1 pound dried orecchiette
3/4 cup ricotta (preferably fresh)

The term “salsa cruda” is claimed by both Mexican and Italian cooking and means, to both cuisines, “uncooked sauce.” Beyond that, they couldn’t be more different. For Mexican cuisine, it is pico de gallo. In Italian cuisine, it is uncooked sauce that is served over pasta. The only part of the dish that is actually cooked is the pasta itself.

Stir together all ingredients except pasta and ricotta in a large bowl with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Let stand, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes.

Couldn’t be simpler. Or maybe it could if you threw some tomatoes at the wall with a handful of salt and went at it a la Willy Wonka’s lickable wallpaper. If you’re looking for something cleaner that requires a fork to eat, try the salsa cruda instead. Here’s a shot of the loveliness:

Back in the spring, Citizen Chef and I were both debating whether or not to buy some tomato plants. I didn’t, but the whole time I was making the salsa cruda, I wish I had. You’re looking at Tomatoes on the Vine in the bowl, and they were delicious, don’t get me wrong – but fresh tomatoes would have made this out of sight. If you’re growing tomatoes, pick a few and get chopping.

Now, you may think that this sounds like a boring topping, but let me assure you while the flavors of the garlic, basil, shallots, etc. are mingling together for 20-some minutes, something very special is happening. Even after 10 minutes you can stick your fork in there and get a taste of what’s going on – the flavors are melding together in a fresh array. It’s divine.

Meanwhile, cook orecchiette in a pasta pot of boiling salted water (3 tablespoons salt for 6 qt water) until al dente.

Alton Brown sometimes refers to the little pastas that are shaped like an ear – the orecchiette is it. “Orecchio” literally means “ear” in Italian. They do look a little like ears, don’t they?

I had a hard time finding orecchiette. I guess I thought it odd because I hear it mentioned so much on food shows, so I assumed it was a little more common. If you needed, you could use pasta shells, but they are hardly the same consistency as the orecchiette. The orecchiette are thicker, and don’t have that ultra sleek and smooth processed consistency that a pasta shell has. Still, if you can find it, great, if not, use whatever you can get.

Drain pasta and toss with tomato salsa. Season with salt and pepper and dollop with ricotta.

Serve with a small loaf of bread and a side of garlic butter. Bon Appetito!

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