Pasta with sweet tomato sauce and baked ricotta

Our Jamie Oliver cookbooks have been getting a lot of use lately, and with good reason. He’s got such a great approach to food, particularly pasta! I used to think I was tired of Italian food, but his recipes just keep proving me wrong. Sometimes he can be a little heavy-handed with the butter and cream, but it’s easy to scale those back a little bit.

I was a little skeptical about baking ricotta cheese, but it makes it firm and creamy and a little more solid than it is right out of the container. I made fresh pasta for this because I’m now completely obsessed with it, but of course you can use dried if you want to. Taste your sauce before you add any sugar, because some brands of canned tomatoes already taste pretty sweet.

1 15-ounce container ricotta (I used part-skim), drained in a cheesecloth-lined strainer for a few hours
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in juice
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar (if needed)
1 pound wide pasta, such as pappardelle
a handful of fresh basil, torn
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan

After you’ve drained the ricotta, preheat the oven to 400F. Put a piece of parchment on a baking sheet and put the ricotta in the center. Flatten it so you have a 1″ thick disk.
Rub all over with 1 tbsp olive oil, then sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes, then remove and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil to cook the pasta.
Heat the other tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and cook over medium until soft, 3 or 4 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 15 minutes, then crush the tomatoes with a spoon. Taste and add sugar (optional), salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar.
When the pasta is cooked, drain and reserve some of the pasta water.
Toss the cooked with the sauce and a tablespoon or two of pasta water and the tomato sauce, and basil. Crumble up the ricotta and add to the pasta with the parmesan cheese.

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