Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Creamy Roasted Tomato Pasta
(inspired by "Baked Feta Pasta" TikTok sensation)

April it is, and characteristically erratic. So far, we've had snowstorms bookend a steamy, sunburning week of highs-in-the-upper-80s. We have lilac buds and tulip blooms and all kinds of green shoots and stalks and tendrils fighting to stake their claim among fifty shades of brown. We've enjoyed wet walks and dry walks and pothole birdbaths and patio dining and a trip to the North Shore and too much birthday cake. There has also been a great deal of dining in. I'm trying to be better at family dinner, historically not where I've brought my A-game. There are just too many of them. Day after day after every day. But! I've recently allowed myself to accept and indulge the great unifying nature of pasta, and that's helped. I resisted pasta as a dinner staple for a long time (refined carbs and all) but the family likes it. It's quick and easy. There is no end to its variations. Inflation hasn't hit it so badly yet. And makes the absolute best leftovers.


Last night's pasta was a variation on a theme. About a year ago I first tried out the Baked Feta Pasta that got a lot of press coverage after it broke the internets when it debuted as viral TikTok sensation. (Or something? I don't even know the right words to use when TikTok is involved, or who should get credit for this recipe. I can speak to its deliciousness though. It's delicious.) At any rate! I made this a couple times almost exactly as written (less oil). Last time, as my spouse and I savored the feta tang, and while our children complained it was "too sour," I wondered whether a hunk of Boursin would work just as well, affording a milder, family-friendlier flavor. (My children are pretty picky. They hate my A-game.) I finally gave it a go last night and - YES! - it's delightful. Straight-up silky-smooth creamy. The combination of onions, garlic, lemon zest, and my favorite dried herb blend ensure it's at least as flavorful as the feta version. Everybody wins.

My other changes from the original are these: cut oil in half, used dried herbs instead of fresh thyme (unless it's growing in my summer herb garden, I find thyme a bit too fussy and not-my-favorite-enough to be worth it), went with baby red onions instead of shallot (first local farm produce of the season!!), and added a bag of baby spinach. That's gnocchi in the photos, but I've used whatever shelf-stable pasta is stashed in my cupboards and it's always turned out great. It's kind of heavy, as far as weeknight dinners go, so we ate it with a big green salad last night, and roasted cauliflower or green beans when it was colder out.


Creamy Roasted Tomato Pasta
Serves 4-5

2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
1 small red onion or shallot, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons dried herb blend (better yet: Mrs. Dash or Penzey's wonderful rendition of same: Mural of Flavor)
1 package Boursin cheese* (or 6- to 8-oz block of feta)
10-12 oz pasta, cooked according to package instructions

To finish:
5 oz baby spinach
Zest of 1 lemon
Fresh basil, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss tomatoes, onion, and garlic with 3 tablespoons olive oil in a 9X13" baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and dried herbs. Make a space in the center of the mixture and put the Boursin cheese there. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of oil on the cheese. Bake for 40 minutes or so, until tomatoes have started to burst a bit and the Boursin has browned on top slightly.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil and cook your pasta. Coordinate the pasta cooking time with your sauce-in-the-making. You'll want the pasta to be done just a minute or two before the tomatoes and Boursin. Reserve a cup of pasta water before straining.

Remove baking dish from oven. Add pasta and baby spinach, top with lemon zest, and stir until spinach wilts, and the Boursin and tomatoes turn into a creamy sauce, coating pasta. If you'd like the sauce thinner, add some pasta water, two tablespoons at a time. (I did this with the feta, but found the Boursin version was saucy enough on its own, and did not add any pasta water.) Sprinkle with basil leaves before serving.

*Tip: put the Boursin in the freezer while the oven preheats (10 minutes or so). That firms it up so you don't lose any bits with the foil encasing it.