Pasta with Tomatoes, Spinach, Ricotta Salata, and Toasted Sunflower Seeds

Pasta with Tomatoes, Spinach, Ricotta Salata, and Toasted Sunflower Seeds

I have hit the point in the year where I am officially out of my summer tomatoes.  And my strawberry jam (which makes everyone very unhappy).  I never freeze enough because I am always limited to my meager amount of freezer space.  So I have to either learn to can or buy a deep freeze — both things that are on my to-do list.  Anyway, I had to buy canned tomatoes at the store the other day and it sort of pisses me off.  It’s not that they are terrible — there are some really excellent canned tomatoes; it just seems so unnecessary given the piles of tomatoes at the end of summer.  So, this year, I am officially promising to freeze more.  Maybe.  

So this dish was inspired by both my CSA box this week which was full of spinach, as well as the noticeably empty hole in my freezer that used to hold the tomatoes.  I make a version of this all summer long when tomatoes are plentiful and it is especially good with the heirlooms (if you are willing to part with them for sauce).  In a pinch, I just chop them up and don’t even peel them.  If you are using fresh tomatoes, feel free to cook the sauce less so it retains those bright tomato flavors.   

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And the other thing I love about this pasta dish (and really anything with a big pile of cooked greens in it) is that it is a one-bowl meal.  A salad is a great companion; but I always figure that I am eating my “salad” in a condensed form cooked right in the dish.  And my daughter loves the fact that she can eat about four bites of spinach and it equals one huge spinach salad.  

One ingredient note here… Ricotta Salata is a dried and salted form of ricotta.  It is hard cheese that crumbles very nicely and is very mild (similar in texture — but not flavor — to a firm feta cheese).  It is wonderful in salads and pasta.  If you cannot find it, I would substitute Parmesan or Romano, although it won’t be quite the same.

Pasta with Tomatoes, Spinach, Ricotta Salata, and Toasted Sunflower Seeds

Serves 4-6

2 T Olive Oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
28 oz. can of chopped or crushed tomatoes (or fresh)
Salt and Pepper
Pinch of sugar (optional)
2 T fresh oregano, stems removed and chopped
1/2 cup of toasted sunflower seeds (or Pine Nuts if you don’t have allergy issues)
10-12 oz. of whole wheat pasta (we used Fusilli, but any kind will work)
5-6 oz. of Ricotta Salata
4 packed cups of spinach (washed, stemmed, and chopped)

1.  Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add garlic, onions, and a few red pepper flakes (optional) and saute for 3-5 minutes until softened a bit. 

2.  Add tomatoes, oregano, a pinch of sugar (if your tomatoes need it), and some salt and pepper to season.  Simmer sauce for 10-15 minutes. (Less if using fresh tomatoes.)

3.  Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Cook pasta according to package directions.

4.  Add chopped spinach to tomato sauce and stir it in.  Allow the spinach to wilt and cook down.  (It will seem like too much, but it will be fine.)  Remove sauce from heat.

5.  When pasta is done, drain and return to large pot.  (Don’t drain your pasta too thoroughly, a little of the pasta water helps the sauce stick.)  Add tomato/spinach sauce from saute pan and toss over the heat so the sauce “cooks” into the pasta a bit.  Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary.

6.  When ready to serve, crumble most of the Ricotta Salata into the pasta and add the sunflower seeds (or pine nuts).  Toss well and season more if necessary.  Serve the pasta with a bit of additional Ricotta Salata on top and some fresh oregano.  

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8 Responses to “Pasta with Tomatoes, Spinach, Ricotta Salata, and Toasted Sunflower Seeds”

  1. Cole says:

    I can say this was an amazing dinner! The sunflower seeds as a whole new level to this one. It is amazing to watch a 7 and 2 year old devour a plates filled with greens w/o really knowing they are doing it. A great meal that I would pair with a really nice California Zinfandel — if we would have had one!

  2. amanda says:

    You have no idea how hard it is to find decent tomatoes in the UK. Unless you grow them yourself you’re kinda screwed. I did get some lovely looking ones at Borough Market today but that required a trek up to London. I got yellow, orange and tiger-striped. I look forward to a dinner of them with some fresh mozz.

    Keep up the great work – your pics are fab!

  3. Kristin says:

    Amanda… there is literally nothing better than a dinner of wonderful tomatoes, mozz, and a little crusty bread! It’s a combo straight from the heavens — or actually the earth. Hope you enjoyed!

  4. amanda says:

    I really did enjoy it – the tiger striped tomatoes were so flavourful! I just wish I’d had some really expensive balsamic to dot over the mozz. That was some good buffalo mozz! And the ciabatta. £2.50 for a massive loaf and worth every penny.

  5. Jenn says:

    Love this recipe. I made it last night with a 1/2 lb of hot sausage and with pumpkin seeds. The Mister wasn’t a fan of the pepitas. That said, he still cleaned his plate!

    Thanks for another great recipe!

  6. Kristin says:

    Maybe try toasted pine nuts? Or just skip them altogether… and I bet it was good with the sausage!

  7. Beth says:

    This was my first experience with Ricotta Salatta…Reed and I got a kick out of watching the cheese lady at Wegmans open up and cut a new wheel. This cheese is so mild, but adds a nice touch.

    The sunflower seeds add so much flavor and crunch. Delicious! Also out of my summer tomatoes (sob), I used Muir Glen Fire Roasted crushed tomatoes.

  8. Beth says:

    Fantastic recipe that can be adapted so easily to the season! Modified it a bit for summer tonight. The modifications were: addition of cow-a-hen hot sausage in place of the seeds/nuts, diced sauteed zucchini, fresh chopped basil instead of oregano, fresh corn off of the cob, and kamut and quinoa twisted pasta. We all loved this recipe before…and loved it just as much tonight. I’ve never seen Reed eat so quickly…he scarfed it all down. I want thirds, but didn’t make enough! 😉

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