There are nights that call for big pans of cheesy baked pasta, plunked on the table with a stack of plates and a big salad for everyone to dig into. Pasta is classic Sunday supper fare, but also works on rainy Wednesdays, when the week is dragging on and you need a meal that will wrap you up like a warm blanket. This Wednesday I knew pasta was in order, and so rummaged through my various drawers and cupboards of boxes and bags in order to use up some of the shapes that have been lying in wait for far too long. I came up with a box of manicotti – something I’m quite sure I haven’t made in a decade. There was ricotta in the fridge, and bacon, and that decided it.
Bacon + onions + kale (just a bit) + ricotta. And good tomatoes. When you’re stuffing things, anything goes.
When time spent in the kitchen is therapeutic, and the weekend offers up more of it, it’s nice to boil a pot of enormous pasta tubes and stand at the counter and stuff them, then lay them out in a row on a bed of roughly crushed tomatoes. Good canned tomatoes are essential, I think – a staple I always have in the pantry, more reliable than the seasons (and my often hailed-on garden), and when I find a good brand, my loyalty knows no bounds. Good canned tomatoes are most often the basis for homemade pasta sauces, too – they’re more consistent and condensed compared to fresh tomatoes.
I have a few favourites at the Italian markets, but recently I was on the receiving end of a can of Muir Glen fire-roasted crushed tomatoes, which are new to Canada, and yes – they were chunky and intense, not overly acidic, with great flavour – no filter required. I look for the kind of tomatoes I can upend onto pasta, or into a pan with a glug of olive oil and a few cloves of garlic, that don’t need much help because the already taste like tomatoes – not jarred tomato sauce.
My sister came in after a 12 hour workday and got herself a plate, then sat down and took a few bites. She looked up at the cans on the counter and – for real – said wow, it really makes a difference when you use good tomatoes, doesn’t it? And that was that.
*Muir Glen sent me a couple cans of their tomatoes to try, and compensated me for including them in a recipe. They really are that good.