Looking for a good, simple and nice looking meatless weeknight meal? This one is simple and fulfills each requirement. This one could become a real comfort food in any household. Just think, nothing, and I do mean NOTHING is better than macaroni, or pasta if you prefer. Add to it some garlic, olive oil tomatoes and you have something. Now traditionally, baked macaroni is made with ricotta and mozzarella. But, substitute and be creative and you can open up a whole world of possibilities.
½ cup EVOO. The darker one that you normally reserve for salads
4 good sized garlic cloves, whole
1 whole container of cherry or grape tomatoes
1 dried block of feta cheese
1 pound of small or medium shell pasta-as always use a good pasta
Table salt and pepper to taste
In a good sized roasting pan combine tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. Mix them and coat the tomatoes thoroughly. Spread them evenly in the pan and place the feta in the middle. Salt and pepper to taste, but don’t skimp on the salt. (I find Morton’s to be the best). Place the pan on the middle rack in a 400 degree oven and roast for a full 30 minutes. Then, and here’s the best part, the part that really makes this dish, raise the oven temp to 450. After mixing and recoating the tomatoes, roast them for another 15 minutes, or until they turn a nice, golden color.
Meanwhile, boil your pasta to taste, al dente is always best, but make sure you don’t boil it too long. Just as an aside, a good pasta won’t turn to mush like a store brand. Save about a scoop of the water.
Remove the tomatoes from the oven, squash the garlic, add some basil, this is a personal preference because some people don’t care for too much, and mix thoroughly. Now, add the steaming hot pasta and mix again. If it looks a little dry, add some of the hot pasta water and mix it in. Maybe just a bit more basil on top to garnish, and you have it. It’s a pretty dish, made to be served hot, with some crushed red pepper to jazz it up a little.
Now, as a good variation, roast some broccoli with the tomatoes and finish it off with a bit of lemon and you have an almost completely different taste.(That was my wife’s idea and it worked really well). Serve this immediately so some steam is still rising as you plate it. Partner this with a good, dry red wine and you have a nice meal fit for special company or for a romantic dinner at home.
As I said above, nothing is better than macaroni. A good, hot dish of good macaroni is good any night of the week. It is both filling and satisfying, easy, but never ordinary and always delicious. But again, please use a good brand of pasta. A store brand may be good for like a macaroni salad or that box of mac and cheese. But for normal consumption, the kind of eating that you want to enjoy, try a good brand like Barilla or DeCecco. Yes, it is more expensive, but you can get it on sale, and even if you don’t you will notice a difference if your taste buds are working at all.
So, as my sainted genuine Italian grandmother used to say, “Mangia, figlio. Mangia. E buono per te.”