🍅 In peak tomato season, the sunniest recipes for a light-Italian summer

Pasta with tomato confit and ricotta from "To the Last Bite."
Summer tomatoes scream for pasta: gemelli with tomato confit and blobs of ricotta from “To the Last Bite.”
(Nicole Franzen)

Summertime is tomato time. On a trip earlier this month to Italy, the tomatoes were so sweet and came straight from the garden, the clams were delivered from the Livorno seaside market, and we rolled our own fresh pasta. Back in L.A., tomatoes are in full swing, and this week I ate the juiciest heirloom tomato of the season so far — on toast with Ferrarini butter, made with cream from the same cows whose milk produces Parmigiano Reggiano (and you can get it at Costco). Plus, figs with ricotta, toasted pine nuts in mint tea and smoky paprika on ice cream. I’m Betty Hallock, deputy Food editor, filling in for cooking columnist Ben Mims.

Every night was pasta night during a week in the Maremma, a coastal region along the Tyrrhenian Sea in southwestern Tuscany known for its pici, a type of noodle thicker than spaghetti and supposedly dating to the Etruscans, and its pappardelle, extra-wide and with eggs in the dough. I was lucky to stay among the rolling hills of olive trees, umbrella pine groves and fields of sunflowers at the invitation of a friend celebrating her birthday. We were in Italian cowboy country, the nearest town miles away, so every meal was cooked at home.

Fresh pasta makes summery sense when the tomatoes growing on the farm next door are ripe and juicy or the seafood comes from Il Mercato delle Vettovaglie, the market in the Tuscan port town of Livorno — one of the largest historic markets in Europe — selling clams, cuttlefish, sea bass, octopus, prawns and some of the best chicken in Italy too, the yellow-skinned galletto Livornese. We ate pasta with clams, or with a ragú of local wild boar, but also whole branzino roasted under a mound of salt, fried calamari and the Livornese seafood stew called cacciucco.

Small Datterini tomatoes in a glass bowl alongside a bunch of fresh basil
Datterini tomatoes and fresh basil from the gardens at Orto San Frediano, a culinary school on the left bank of the Arno River in Florence.
(Betty Hallock / Los Angeles Times)

One morning chef Enrica Della Martira visited our kitchen from her cooking school and gardens in Florence. She brought with her the little tomatoes known as Datterini, named for their shape and sweetness. The word datterini translates to “little dates.” The culinary garden at Orto San Frediano is a legacy green space on the left bank of the Arno River, formerly a nursery built by Mario Torrini in the 1940s. Along with its Datterini, Della Martira toted bunches of fresh basil and the sweet, hot pink, torpedo-shaped variety of Calabrian onions, Tropea, also known as la regina rossa, the red queen.


From there — tomatoes plus basil plus onion — it’s a quick sauce: Heat olive oil in a pan, add the slices of two torpedo onions and cook over high heat until translucent and golden; add 400 grams (a little less than a pound) of halved small tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste and cook for 10 minutes, until the sauce has melted down a bit. Add fresh basil.

Semolina and type 0 flours and eggs for making fresh pasta.
For making fresh tagliatelle: a combination of semolina and type 0 flours and eggs. The ratio of eggs to flour for the dough is one egg per 100 grams of flour.
(Betty Hallock / Los Angeles Times)

But first, we made pasta — tagliatelle, the narrower cousin of pappardelle (although in Tuscany almost any version of the wide flat noodle is called pappardelle). Della Martira uses a mix of semolina and type 0 flour (which is slightly less refined than 00), and her recipe is one egg per 100 grams of flour. So, for pasta to serve four people, mound 300 grams of flour on a work surface, make a well in the center and break three eggs into it. Beat the eggs in the center with a fork, and then gradually incorporate a little of the flour from the edges. When you can gather the pasta dough into a ball, knead for 5 minutes until smooth, wrap it and let it rest in the fridge for half an hour. You can find detailed instructions for rolling out tagliatelle in a Times recipe from Carolynn Carreño, who has co-authored books with L.A. chef Nancy Silverton.

This week in Los Angeles, I picked up heirloom tomatoes from the Golden Poppy Market in Cypress Park after stopping by newly opened Shins Pizza (two doors down), where the white pie is blanketed with mortadella and the arancini are dusted with furikake. (Do check out Golden Poppy Market if you’re over there. It’s owned by Michelle Carr, who ran the former coffeehouse and rock music venue Jabberjaw and is super cool.) I immediately went to my neighborhood bakery, Bread Lounge, and bought one of its long loaves of ciabatta (ciabatta is underrated!) for making tomato toast smeared with that Ferrarini butter and topped with sliced tomatoes. Butter and tomatoes is as good as mayo and tomatoes.

What else is cooking? For an easy dessert, quartered figs and fresh ricotta with honey. At a sidewalk cafe in Paris, I tried a small handful of toasted pine nuts in a cup of fresh mint tea, a Tunisian tradition for special occasions — which I now want to drink on any occasion. Another delicious and surprising (to me) combination from the restaurant Clamato: melon ice cream and red currants, sprinkled with coarse, smoky paprika and flaky sea salt. The flavors say “happy summer.”

Here are some favorite recipes from our archives for using the best fresh tomatoes and for making light, Italian-inspired summer meals.

Fresh Pasta

Carolynn Carreño adapts a recipe from Marcella Hazan for fresh tagliatelle. The technique here is similar to the way I learned to make pasta from chef Enrica Della Martira.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour.

Making fresh tagliatelle, with semolina and type 0 flours and eggs.
(Betty Hallock / Los Angeles Times)

Simple Marinara Sauce

Martha Rose Shulman makes easy work of fresh tomato sauce with a trusty food mill. “Because the mill purées and strains food at the same time, I don’t have to peel and seed my tomatoes before I begin cooking,” she writes. “I simply cut them into wedges, throw them into a big pan with olive oil, garlic and basil sprigs, and let the tomatoes cook down until I have a thick, fragrant mush that I put through the fine disk of my food mill. All of the skins and seeds are left behind.”
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

 Fresh tomato sauce in a blue saucepan next to a wooden spoon
(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

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Fennel Salad With Spicy Green Olives and Crushed Pistachios

You can’t live on pasta alone. This fennel salad is from Andy Baraghani’s book “The Cook You Want to Be” (Lorena Jones), bright and crunchy. He says to make sure to eat the salad as soon as you dress the fennel for full crunchiness.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 30 minutes.

Fennel Salad with Spicy Green Olives and Crushed Pistachios, on a plate on a green and white striped tablecloth
(Graydon Herriott)

Pasta With Tomato Confit and Ricotta

A simple pasta recipe from Alexis deBoschnek’s book “To the Last Bite” (Simon & Schuster) features tomato confit with chiles, garlic and rosemary, an easy sauce for dried garganelli or penne, mixed with “heaps of ricotta.”
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 20 minutes, plus 2 hours, largely unattended, for the tomatoes.

Pasta with Tomato Confit and Ricotta from "To the Last Bite."
(Nicole Franzen/Nicole Franzen)

Paul Bertolli’s Tomato Conserva

Hold onto the essence of summer tomatoes the way Patience Gray described Puglian salsa secca, the strained puree of tomatoes left out to concentrate in the Mediterranean sun, in “Honey From a Weed.” This conserva recipe based on Paul Bertolli’s is as inspired.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 20 minutes, plus several hours, largely unattended, for slow roasting.

Photo illustration of red and green tomato varieties including Lava Flow, Cyril's Choice and Saucy Mary.
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images; photos provided by Scott Daigre/Scott Daigre)

Panna Cotta

Panna cotta — basically cream thickened with gelatin — is the perfect Italian summer dessert, and “a perfect panna cotta should have just enough [gelatin] that it seems the cream is barely holding together.” Russ Parsons cracked the code for panna cotta with the right amount of jiggle.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 40 minutes, plus at least 4 hours chilling time.

A spoon drizzles a red sauce over a round panna cotta
(Kirk McCoy / Los Angeles Times)

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