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Feeding the Summer Crowd: Roasted Tomatoes with Pasta

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We've been spending our weekends at the Jersey Shore this summer and that means company. Between the laundry and the grocery shopping, the wet bathing suits falling off the rail into the bushes, the making up of the pullout couch, the root-beer cans piling up in bathroom wastepaper baskets, and the moldy towels hidden under the beds, sometimes it feels as if my husband and I are running a B&B. Today, I'd had just about enough and told my younger son and his friend to go walk the mile to the deli in the mid-day heat and buy themselves lunch. My treat.

But over the weekend, I was feeling more hospitable. Both my sons had friends sleeping over, which meant four hungry teenage boys. My husband's aunt and uncle were coming for dinner and my in-laws were coming the next day for lunch. The sun was out, the weather was glorious, and because it's summer, everyone was sitting around not doing much except waiting to be fed. Sometimes this makes me crazy but most of the time I love it.

To me, a crowd of hungry people spells opportunity. What new things could we make? To my husband, this means keeping things as simple (translation: cheap) as possible. "We have to feed all these people?" he said. "Let's just do hot dogs and hamburgers."

My heart sank. That type of food depends upon rolls and I don't eat gluten. Plus, hot dogs and hamburgers were B-O-R-I-N-G. Doesn't my husband realize I have a food-obsessed-memoir coming out? That I always need something new to cook and write about? Then one of the kids said he didn't eat beef. What we were going to do, grill him a hot dog roll?

As luck would have it, a few minutes later, our neighbor walked over with a quart of fresh tomatoes. Their tomato plants topple over onto our deck and our yellow lab sometimes goes fishing around the garden, knocking their green tomatoes onto the ground. Roxy doesn't eat the tomatoes but it's possible she licks and sniffs them. When we see the green tomatoes rolling around the deck, we quietly place them back under the tomato plants. I'm not sure the neighbors know this. So when my husband walked into the kitchen, grinning and carrying a bowl of fresh, free tomatoes, I wondered: Had these once been the green tomatoes Roxy nosed off the plants? Whatever the circumstances, now we could make one of the dishes I had just learned in my cooking class. It was cheap---pasta, roasted tomatoes, basil, parsley, capers, garlic and olive oil---and it would feed the multitude.

Two days earlier, I had eaten roasted tomatoes for the very first time in the cooking class I take with Kathleen Sanderson at Kings Cooking Studio. Kathleen had roasted tomatoes with olive oil and thyme leaves, and used them as a base for a dish she called Pasta Fresco. I had taken her cooking class with my friends Julia and Denise. Because Denise and I are gluten-free, Kathleen had given us roasted tomatoes without pasta. Eating those warm tomatoes was like spooning up manna. If you have never eaten roasted tomatoes before, you are in for a treat. The meat of the tomato slowly dissolves on your tongue. With a little Parmesan thrown in, they taste far more fattening and luxurious than they are. The bonus is they are ridiculously easy to make.

I ran to the supermarket as fast as I could to get the other ingredients. Grocery shopping juices me like nothing else. Plus, with a house full of people, it provided a welcome break from constantly telling everyone where the ice-maker was. I am a moody hostess though I try to keep the darker moods at bay. Initially, I am all charm and generosity, inviting everyone and anyone over and meaning it. Then, the waves of social anxiety roll in and I can't wait to disappear into the kitchen. A trip to the supermarket and the chopping and measuring that follow inevitably calms me down.

The market we go to on the weekends is the same one where my older son works as a stock boy. He told me they keep all the "good herbs" in the back. They cut them up and put them in little zip lock bags and hide them in a room you never see. You have to ask for the herbs by name. I asked one of the stock guys for fresh parsley and basil, which he had, and thyme leaves, which he didn't. He handed me a bottle of dried tarragon leaves instead. It was summer. The tomatoes--and the company---wouldn't know any better.

The bill came to $108, including two six-packs of hot dogs. That's not bad for feeding eight people dinner on a Saturday night and ten people lunch the next day. That night, we gathered around the dining room table, and all the teenagers and adults dug in. "This is fantastic," my husband's aunt Elaine said. "This is awesome."

In fact, because I had doubled the recipe, we ate it for two more days after that. Plus, we still have four juicy tomatoes ripening on the deck. Actually, strike that. As I was writing this, the sun began to set and my husband took his mother out kayaking. As they paddled away, I roasted the remaining tomatoes and sprinkled them with Parmesan cheese. An hour later, we sat on the deck and ate the tomatoes warm, with slices of Manchego cheese, hunks of French bread and glasses of cold white wine. The next day, the remaining tomatoes sizzled their way into omelets.

Tomatoes are cheap and bountiful these days. Put some in your oven or on your grill and devour what's left of summer.

Pasta Fresco
(Serves 8)
1 pound pasta, cooked al dente (orichette, penne or rotelle)
1 quart oven roasted tomatoes*
(See recipe for roasted tomatoes below. If you don't have fresh tomatoes, use a combination of 3 cups halved grape tomatoes and 1 cup julienned sun dried tomatoes.)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1 cup shredded basil
¼ cup capers, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup balsamic or red vinegar (I used balsamic)
2/3 cup virgin olive oil
Pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese

1. Combine tomatoes, garlic, parsley, basil, capers and vinegar and mix well. Slowly, stir in oil. Let dressing stand 30-40 minutes before tossing with pasta.

2. Cook pasta al dente. Toss hot pasta with room temperature sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. (This dish is even better the next day, served cold or room temperature.)

Roasted Tomatoes
1 quart tomatoes
Olive oil, to taste
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
Thyme leaves or dried tarragon
Parmesan cheese, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (If you don't have parchment paper, you can used waxed paper, which is not ideal but it's what I used and it was fine. Do not use tinfoil.)

Slice tomatoes in half. If you like, you can remove jelly and seeds. (I didn't.) Place tomatoes on baking sheet, cut side up. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme leaves or tarragon. Roast tomatoes for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow tomatoes to cool slightly. Loosen them from baking sheet with a spatula. If you don't plan to use them right away, store them in the fridge. If you are planning to use them right away, dice them before adding them to the sauce.