Roasted Garlic and Tomato Pasta

I can't deny that I'm a bit of a pasta freak...I suppose, actually, a big pasta freak. It's generally quick, easy, and there are so many flavor and texture options. As a person who has trouble planning meals, pasta is one of my last-minute, go-to meals, along with risotto; I can't tell you how often Billy and I eat these two dishes compared to anything else during the week! This particular pasta, I created years ago, in college. I can't even recall what inspired me, but, up until that point, I really only ever added butter, olive oil, and a bit of garlic powder to my noodles. One evening, though, I got adventurous and created something that, I think, is truly spectacular. 

After having made it on several occasions by now, I've tweaked it a bit...When I first made the pasta, it was dinner for my mother and I while my dad was away on business. For two people, I used a full head of roasted garlic; the flavor was phenomenal. Honestly, I'd continue to use that amount if it weren't for some of the adverse effects that much garlic can have on your body. I'll spare you the details, but if you're not worried about any after-effects, please go ahead and use the ratio of a whole head per two people. Your taste buds, at least, won't be sorry!! Otherwise, I now stick to a much safer half a head per two people; though, I use quite a large head of garlic :) of course

The general preparation is to cook down some fresh, diced tomatoes with chopped, fresh basil; make a thick sauce out of roasted garlic and olive oil; and mix it all together with the ultimately ooey, gooey, stringy wonderfulness of fresh mozzarella. The resulting meal is like a comfort food classic with the sweet tomato playing upon the fragrant garlic while the melty mozzarella softens every bite. Diced, fresh tomatoes are absolutely necessary in order to keep the flavors of garlic and tomato separate; otherwise, you end up with a garlic tomato sauce. Of course, if you know someone who likes to pick around the chunks of tomato (like Billy!), feel free to cut them up much smaller, but don't bring it to the point of a puree. As you can see in the photo above, I chopped the tomato quite finely so it would be impossible for my wonderfully picky boyfriend to avoid it, yet each bit is clearly separate from the garlic-coated noodles.

In the same vein, fresh mozzarella cannot, without a single doubt, be replaced with any other cheese and expected to give the same flavor or texture. The dish is completely transformed without this element; it's still wonderfully delicious, but the strings of gooey mozzarella add that extra something, bringing the pasta to the next level. No matter what, do not replace it with shredded mozzarella from a bag. If you're not going to go the whole way, just grate some Parmesan over the top. In my opinion, once you've experienced melted fresh mozzarella, you'll wish you could easily find a pizza shop that uses that instead of the sad, boring alternative. There's just nothing like it! 

Roasted Garlic and Tomato Pasta (serves two)

  • 150 grams pasta (I prefer something with ridges or a small bowl shape in order to hold the pieces of tomato well. No matter what, definitely steer clear of pastas that need twirling.)
  • half a head of garlic
  • one large, red tomato, diced (if you can't find any nice red ones, halve or quarter cherry or grape tomatoes because those are almost always reliable!)
  • 3-4 large leaves fresh basil, finely chopped (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • olive oil
  • 4 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced into 1/4 to 1/2-inch cubes (as I said before, I beg you not to use a bag of shredded mozzarella. Fresh is a must and you will see why!)

Well before getting ready to start your pasta, roast the garlic. You can do this a number of ways, but my preference is to place the entire head (or, in this case, half a head), intact, into a garlic roaster (or wrapped loosely in foil) placed inside a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes, until all of the garlic is soft. I allow it to cool off and then peel away the skin so I have several full cloves of roasted garlic. A less tedious method is to slice off the top of the head before roasting, exposing the cloves, and then simply squeezing all of the garlic out; I don't prefer this method simply because I hate wasting the garlic that doesn't squeeze out and hate the mess all over my hands :) Roast however you please; just make sure the garlic is absolutely softened!

Bring a pot of water to the boil, salt it well, and then add your pasta. If you don't already practice this regularly, remember to always salt your water; it allows the salt to get inside the pasta rather than simply coating it after it's cooked. I prefer to cook my pasta al dente and highly recommend it, but, obviously, feel free to cook it to the texture of your preference :)

While waiting for the water to boil, saute the tomato with a little olive oil, the chopped basil, and salt and pepper, to taste. Keep the pan generally over medium heat, occasionally stirring the tomatoes. You're looking mainly to soften the pieces, so they need only cook as long as it takes to finish the pasta. If they've broken down well and softened before the pasta has finished cooking, just turn off the heat; there's no need to keep them heated because the hot pasta will do the job later. Another option is to roast the tomatoes in the oven (about 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes should do the trick). As always, the method is your choice!

In the meantime, make the garlic sauce, which is as simple as pureeing/whisking the roasted garlic with olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste! If using a food processor, very slowly drizzle in the olive oil in order to create an emulsion; if you don't add it gradually enough, the garlic and oil will separate, which isn't a huge deal for this particular dish, but not preferable. Because I don't have a food processor small enough to keep that little bit of garlic constantly mixing, I whisk it in a small bowl while very slowly drizzling in the oil; it's more physically tedious, but most effective under the circumstances. Unfortunately, I don't know the definite amount of olive oil to add; I just keep pouring until the mixture becomes like a thick sauce (rather in between the thickness of mayonnaise and Caesar dressing; it needn't be pourable and should coat a spoon). If it's a little thinner or thicker, you're fine; it'll still taste great and coat the pasta well! Once you've achieved the desired consistency, though, sprinkle in some salt and pepper until seasoned to your liking. 

When the pasta has finished cooking, drain it and coat it in the garlic sauce; stir in the cooked tomatoes. Sprinkle the fresh mozzarella evenly over the pasta and place a lid on the pot, keeping it over low to low/medium heat. The mozzarella needs to melt before being incorporated into the pasta. If you try to incorporate it too soon, it'll just all clump together and frustrate you. Once the cheese has clearly melted, use a set of tongs to toss the pasta so that the mozzarella coats every bit in wonderful, gooey strings. 

This is a completely different pasta, but shows exactly what you want to happen to the fresh mozzarella!
Once the mozzarella is well-incorporated, divide it into bowls and get ready to give your taste buds a wonderful experience :)

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