Days are long and bright but around me, the gardens still need time to produce the vine-ripe tomatoes bursting with sun-warmed juice that I crave. If you, too, live along the East Coast, and anywhere heading west that sits north of the Mason-Dixon line, you probably share the feeling.
Happily, we already have an abundance of tender lettuces; crisp, young cucumbers; and young spring onions. So until local tomatoes are ready, I am enjoying arguably the best green salads of the year. All I want to add for dinner is pasta that feels like summer even when I cannot top it with a glorious sauce made from those longed-for tomatoes.
To make it, I think about being in Sicily, where spring means new lambs and sheep’ milk that remains abundant through the summer. Shepherds use this milk to make the aged and pungent hard cheese we call pecorino. They also perform magic, reheating the whey drained away when making pecorino and turn it into glorious fresh ricotta.
Whole-wheat pasta needs full-bodied toppings like chunky wild mushroom sauce, or dark greens melted in olive oil with lots of garlic. This combination of ricotta cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano and walnuts is also good, especially for an easy summer dinner.
Roasting garlic is the only cooking (see below for recipe). Mashed with the ricotta, its gently funky makes turning on your oven worthwhile. I do it early in the day, roasting a couple of heads at a time since the caramelized cloves keep, foil-wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to a week. Once you see how harmonious roasted garlic is with most summer vegetables, those cloves will quickly disappear.
Every ingredient in this dish counts, so choose them with care, which does not necessarily mean spending more. Supermarkets carry whole-wheat pasta imported from Italy that even chefs prefer. Yes, genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, the kind sold in a chunk, is pricy. Yes, genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese sold in a chunk is pricy. But a piece that costs about five dollars is big enough to make this and many more servings of pasta.
Using a microplane grated to shred it, you will discover that a little goes a very long way. And nothing else, not even the best grana padano, has the same complex flavor.
Supermarket ricotta is fine, too, once you learn which brands are thick and creamy, with soft curds and a sweetly milky taste.
For the finishing touch, grind a liberal amount of black pepper over the ricotta. Its aroma and gently lingering heat compliment the mellow and earthy pasta, making this a dish to serve all summer, even accompanied by a platter of thick-cut tomatoes drizzled with olive oil when nature makes them available.
Here’s the full recipe: Whole-Wheat Pasta with Ricotta, Roasted Garlic and Walnuts
1 head garlic
Olive oil cooking spray
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- With a small, sharp knife cut across top of garlic head just far enough down to expose tops of all the cloves. Set garlic on square of foil.
- Coat garlic liberally with cooking spray. Seal the garlic in foil and place on the oven rack. Roast until head feels soft when squeezed, about 40 to 50 minutes. Open foil and cool garlic to room temperature.
- To release garlic, pull cloves from head and press firmly between fingers. You can reseal roasted garlic in foil and refrigerate for up to 5 days.