Let’s talk creamy. If you want that essential adjective to apply to your pasta sauce, what do you do? You might add some heavy cream. However, achieving this ideal texture can be a project, even with the addition of cream, especially if we’re talking pasta bakes. You want a creamy pasta sauce? You’ve got two options:
- Build a sauce from the bottom up, starting with a roux. A roux is a butter & flour mixture prepared before adding any additional sauce ingredients. Its purpose: to act a a thickening agent. This can get tricky. You don’t want to over-thicken, but at the same time, you don’t want your sauce to better resemble soup. But you could always…
- Create a simple cream & cheese sauce. This is how I make my Alfredo sauce (which, yes, I will be posting soon). You start with butter and cream and melt in the cheese of your choice. Simple, right? Yes, except there’s one problem: this can get tricky too. There is a fine balance that must be found between too thick and too thin. In this scenario, cheese is the only thickening agent. Sometimes, it just doesn’t come together as you planned. Luck ain’t always on your side.
The good news? There’s a simple shortcut out there for you creamy sauce lovers. It’s name is Mascarpone Cheese. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this luscious beauty, it’s often referred to as “the Italian cream cheese.” Let’s take note that it really doesn’t taste much like cream cheese at all, but the two are similar in that they have a creamy texture and are often used in the preparation of desserts. Mascarpone, however, is a bit more soft than cream cheese.
So how does this Italian ingredient come into play? I mean, we’re talking pasta sauce, not Tiramisu. Well, like cream cheese, Mascarpone is not limited to sweet dishes; it’s a great addition to savory ones as well.
Basically, Mascarpone Cheese = instant creamy sauce with no fuss & no muss. Yeah. Your life just got one million times easier.
This pasta dish is surprisingly easy and not-so-surprisingly tasty. The Mascarpone in the sauce makes for a lusciously creamy dish without fussing with a roux. It’s like magic, Magic Mascarpone (I should trademark that).
Throwing some salty, tangy Parmesan cheese into this mix certainly doesn’t hurt anyone. Then, you top this dreamy creamy pasta with these fantastic roasted cherry tomatoes and shallots. Oh an did I mention there’s garlic? This pasta is basically flavorpalooza.
Oven-roasting the tomatoes and shallots really is key here. This cooking technique brings out mounds of flavors. You will wind up popping a few two many of the juicy baby-sized tomatoes into your mouth. Confession: I’m not a huge tomato fan, and I was still guilty of this.
A few tips before you get cooking:
- Orecchiette(means “little ears”) really is the pasta of choice here. Not only is it the most adorable pasta in existence, but its cup-like shape is ideal for filling up with sauce. Therefore, you get an extra burst of creamy sauce in every bite.
- Get all your ingredients, pans, and such out beforehand (this includes chopping the tomatoes & shallots).
- How much cooking water you add to the sauce is up to you. It all depends on how thick you like it.
- Yes, you really should salt the pasta water. It adds flavor & we like flavor!
- Cooking the pasta until al dente is key because the pasta will continue to cook in the oven. Al dente is basically when the pasta is almost done, but still holds that slight firmness.
Orecchiette with Mascarpone-Parmesan Sauce & Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
- 2 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled
- 3-4 shallots, sliced
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb pasta (I used Orecchiette)
- 1 1/2 cups mascarpone cheese
- pinch red pepper flakes
- 2 oz (1 cup) finely grated Parmesan cheese (added some more to taste)
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Combine the tomatoes, shallots, and garlic on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Spread in a single layer and roast for 15-20 minutes, or until slightly plumped. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and cool slightly, then remove the garlic cloves and mince them.
While the tomatoes roast, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the pasta to a large bowl, add the mascarpone and stir until melted and combined.
Add the reserved pasta water, little by little, until the sauce has thinned a bit (I only used about 1/2 cup of the water). Gently mix in the red pepper flakes, minced garlic, tomatoes, shallots, half of the Parmesan cheese, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
Spray a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray. Pour the pasta into the baking dish and top with the remaining Parmesan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the pasta is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling. Garnish with extra cheese if you like!
Super. Easy. Sauce.
And yet, so full of flavor! This dish is hearty and creamy, a must-try.