“You can pet them now”.
My cousin and I shared one happy glance, then we dashed off. Finally, the kittens were old enough for us to hold!
It wasn’t as if we hadn’t done it before, with washcloths strapped to our hands in an effort to keep our smell away from their soft grey fur.
The cat had given birth in a corner of the old barn, remodelled to house two guests on the generous Tuscan property where we spent this particular summer holiday.
There we sat, smitten with the little balls of fur in our laps, exclaiming over and over again how silken they were to our touch.
I woke up early the next morning, my sleep disturbed by scratching noises. The wind rustling through the palms outside sounded like heavy rain, though I quickly figured it wasn’t what had risen me.
Instead it was the cat mama. She was busy moving her litter from the corner straight into the wooden wardrobe we had left ajar, maybe in an effort to hide her babes from the two noisy humans sleeping next to them?
Since we were now forced to tone down our obsession with tiny kittens, we decided to make good use of the kitchenette in our little barn.
Our pretend-play restaurant was open within half a day. We had a menu, carefully spelled out on a piece of white paper, complete with made up prices and, I’m guessing, an adorable attempt at writing it in Italian.
The background sound was by no other than Bryan Adams, his album So Far, So Good I had inherited from Dad, along with its annoying scratch in track 10.
We were bossy in the fashion only two highly opinionated ten-year-olds can be, so the next day our fellow vacationers were sat on the small terrace in front of our kitchen, placing their orders.
In full disclosure, my memory of our actual cooking has faded over time, I vaguely remember pre-baked pizza crust and, most likely, terribly overdone pasta.
What I do remember is what a blast we had, how proud we were – and how our dearest grown-ups let us be kids in a way I’m guessing most children can’t be.
We have come a long way since then. We’ve gone through ups and downs in our lives, grown apart and found back together.
Now we’re mothers. Mothers to daughters who, hopefully, some day will have memories of pretend-playing together just as we do ourselves.
If we were to go back to Tuscany now, with our families, I bet this roasted cherry tomato pasta is the kind of dish you could expect to see on our menu.
It starts with a strong roast of minced garlic and chopped capers in olive oil, which then embrace every last bit of the halved cherry tomatoes.
That alone makes for a very fragrant and delicious meal, but I couldn’t stop myself there.
I’m a strong believer in layering flavors and textures in a dish as a shortcut to a beautiful weeknight dinner. And in terms of a quick summer pasta there is not much else that’s as beautiful as the deep and moody flavors of garlic roasted cherry tomatoes tossed with the unique mellow pungency of sheep’s or goat’s cheese.
You can use whatever cheese you have on hand, as long as it is creamy in taste and slightly crumbly in texture. Good ideas are ricotta salta, feta cheese or even queso fresco.
In any case, do not stir the components together – toss them in the pan with a flick of your wrist. Otherwise you’ll end up with mushed tomatoes and cheese, which really takes away from the pleasure of this meal.
As a finishing touch, there are small pieces of filleted lemon dispersed throughout. They add little punches of astringent acidity and pair well with the mint, both a welcome surprise in a pasta dish to blasé tastebuds.
Now I know even the best of weeknight dinner recipes will never beat cute kittens on the Internet – but I hope you still appreciate this roasted cherry tomato pasta at the end of a busy day just as much as we do.
For the garlic roasted cherry tomatoes
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tbsp capers, chopped
- 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
- vine of the tomatoes, optional, but encouraged
- salt + black pepper, to taste
- 1 tbsp brine from the capers
- 1/4 cup pasta cooking water, optional
For the pasta
- 12 oz small pasta shapes, I used fusilli
- 1/2 lemon, zest only
- 1 lemon, filleted; fillets cut into bite-sized triangles
- 3 oz goat's or sheep's milk cheese, crumbled
- 1 large handful mint leaves
Make the garlic roasted cherry tomatoes:
- Heat a large stainless steel skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil and wait for it to come up to temperature. Add the garlic and capers and sauté until fragrant and starting to change color.
- Add the tomatoes, their vine if you like (it adds more flavor) and seasoning and cook for 8-10 minutes or until they're starting to break apart. Toss with the brine, and, if they seem a little dry at this point, with a few tablespoons of pasta cooking water.
Make the pasta:
- While the tomatoes are cooking, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Salt it well and cook the pasta until al dente.
- Once the pasta is done, add it to the pan with the tomatoes. Add the lemon zest, half of the lemon fillets and the cheese. Toss carefully. Taste for seasoning, then serve immediately, passing the remaining lemon and the mint at the table.