At the end of high school one of my favorite part-time jobs was at a sweet little Italian spot in town called Pasta e Basta. It was a fresh pasta fast food-like restaurant where you ordered at the counter, choosing first your pasta, then your sauce, etc. The garlic bread was dangerously addictive and sitting in a big bin right beside me at the cash register, and another bonus was a pasta plate of your choice every shift. I almost always ordered the gemelli pasta with a Sorrentina sauce – tomato sauce with fresh mozzarella and basil. So simple, and so perfect. Crisp and acidic with the thick, fresh tomato sauce, balanced with the rich softness of fresh mozzarella, and finally topped with the earthy herbiness of fresh ribbons of basil. Whoa baby. Even just writing about it sends me back to that happy place. That right there–what I just described to you–is easily the best bowl of pasta on the planet. Oddly, I’ve never cooked it before. Never even thought to try. Until tonight. I served my sauce over spinach and cheese tortellini tonight. I wish I’d found gemelli (not an easy pasta to locate). But it’s all about this sauce. When the dinner table at my house is silent, you know you have a winner. When a little person hums while eating, you also know you need to add it to the regular rotation. Here you go.
WHAT YOU NEED
*1/4C olive oil
* 4 stems flat leaf parsley
* 2 stems fresh basil (plus more for garnish)
* 1t dried oregano
* 1/2 sweet onion, diced
* 3t minced garlic
* 28oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
* 1t Kosher salt
* 1/2t ground black pepper
* 1/4C half and half (milk or cream would be fine as well – whatever you have; you can also leave this out altogether)
* 8oz package cherry sized fresh mozzarella balls, halved
* 1/2C grated Parmesan cheese
* 1 package tortellini (or other pasta of your choosing)
WHAT TO DO
In a large, high-sided, oven-safe pan heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the parsley, basil, and oregano and cook a few minutes, allowing them to infuse the oil with their flavor. When the herbs are crisp, remove them from the pan and discard.
Add the onion and garlic. Lower the heat and saute until the onion is softened and transparent. Add the tomatoes, crushing each in your hand as you add it to the pan, as well as the juice from the can. Add the salt and pepper and stir to combine. Simmer about 20 minutes, until the sauce thickens up. Stir in the half and half and remove from heat.
While the sauce simmers, boil water and cook the pasta to al dente, according to package instructions. Drain and add to the pan with the sauce and stir to coat.
Sprinkle the fresh mozzarella around the pan and the sprinkle the Parmesan on top of that. Turn the broiler onto high and broil just 5 minutes in the oven, until the cheese melts and the top becomes a little browned and crispy.
Cut additional basil leaves into thin ribbons for garnishing, serve, and enjoy!