Garden-fresh produce lightens this summery dish
Vine-ripened tomatoes—with their deep, savory flavor—are one of the glories of summer. And they work well in so many dishes.
We particularly like to pair them with bacon and lettuce, as in the classic BLT sandwich. Or BLT Salad.
But sometimes we want a more substantial main course. Something we can serve hot, but that doesn’t require too much cooking on sultry summer days.
Enter BLT Pasta with Goat Cheese. This simple dish has restaurant-quality flavor, and cooks in minutes. It’s so good we’ve already added it to our recipe rotation. We bet you’ll agree—so get those meal planners revved.
Recipe: BLT Pasta with Goat Cheese
Our veggie garden has been producing succulent tomatoes for a couple of weeks now. But even if you don’t have home-grown tomatoes available, every farmers’ market has bushels of them for sale during the summer. And many supermarkets offer locally grown tomatoes when they’re in season.
This dish is similar in concept to Pasta Caprese, though the flavorings are quite different. And this recipe calls for briefly cooking most of the non-pasta ingredients, including the lettuce.
We first heard about sautéd lettuce via Grace Young back in the 1990s. But we thought no more about it until we saw a recipe for stir-fried romaine lettuce on Bobbi’s terrific blog, Bam’s Kitchen, a few months ago. Since then, we’ve been itching to use the technique in a recipe.
Exact measurements are not crucial for this dish, so feel free to vary ingredient quantities to suit your taste. But the flavor of the tomatoes is very important, so you want to use only the ripest.
Prep time for this dish is about 10 minutes, with cooking time adding another 15 minutes or so. We’ve written the recipe as we prepare it (we perform some of the prep and cooking simultaneously). If you don’t like to juggle things, we suggest an alternate procedure in the Notes.
This dish serves 2 to 3 as a main course, twice that many if you treat it as a starter (though we think it works better as a main).
- 8 ounces dried pasta (any shape will do, though we prefer something with character, like farfalle—butterfly shaped—or rotini or shells; may substitute fresh pasta—see Notes)
- ~1½ tablespoons Kosher salt for the pasta water (a tablespoon if using regular table salt; see Notes)
- ½ pound sliced bacon, or a bit less
- 1 garlic clove (or more to taste)
- ~8 ounces tomatoes (we like cherry or grape tomatoes, but any variety will do; see Notes)
- ½ to ¾ pound lettuce, preferably something with both texture and crunch, like Little/Sweet Gem (see Notes for substitutions)
- ~4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (see Notes)
- ~2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- additional Kosher salt to taste (maybe half a teaspoon; see Notes)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste (maybe ¼ teaspoon; see Notes)
- Fill a 4-quart (or larger) cooking pot half full with water. Bring to a boil. Measure out the pasta. Measure out 1½ tablespoons Kosher salt for the pasta water (but don’t add it yet).
- While the water is coming to a boil, cut the bacon into ½-inch pieces. Place the bacon pieces in a cold frying pan, and then put the pan over medium stovetop heat. Sauté the bacon until it’s nicely browned—this typically takes around 8 minutes for us, but your time may vary by a couple of minutes one way or the other. Stir the bacon occasionally so it doesn’t burn.
- While the bacon is browning and the pasta water is coming to a boil, prep the other ingredients. First, peel the garlic and cut it into fine mince. Set aside.
- Then wash and dry the tomatoes. If using cherry or grape tomatoes, cut them in half. If using larger tomatoes, cut them into chunks of 1 inch or a bit less. Set aside.
- Wash and dry the lettuce. Cut it into chunks of 2 inches or so. Set aside.
- If you bought goat cheese in chunk form rather than pre-crumbled (see Notes), crumble the goat cheese finely. Set aside.
- By now, the pasta water is probably boiling. Add the salt to the water, then add the pasta. Stir the pasta so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Return the water to a brisk simmer, then cook the pasta until it’s al dente (usually 7 minutes or so). Or cook the pasta according to package directions if you prefer (they almost always call for more time than is really needed).
- Once the the bacon is browned, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon. Drain the bacon pieces on a plate covered with paper towels. Pour most of the bacon grease out of the frying pan, leaving about 2 tablespoons. Add the extra virgin olive oil to the frying pan. Heat the pan for a minute or so until the oil is hot, then add the chopped garlic. Sauté the garlic for 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes. Sauté the tomatoes for 3 or 4 minutes (they should be barely cooked, but not broken down).
- Add the lettuce to the frying pan. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sauté the lettuce for 30 seconds, stirring once or twice, then turn off the burner and remove the pan from the heat. Set the pan aside—the lettuce will continue to cook and soften from the heat of the pan. (This procedure produces lettuce that is somewhat wilted, but still retains good crunch. You can cook the lettuce longer, but we don’t advise it; the lettuce will break down, and its texture won’t be as good.)
- The pasta should be done by this point. Remove the pasta cooking pot from the stovetop and reserve about one cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta into a colander. Add the drained pasta back to the empty cooking pot, then pour the contents of the frying pan over it. Add the crumbled goat cheese, and stir to incorporate all the ingredients. Add enough reserved pasta water to make a bit of a sauce (you’ll probably need ¼ to ½ cup; or use additional EVOO for the sauce, if you prefer). Serve.
- As written, this recipe requires you to juggle several things at once. If you don’t want to feel rushed, do all the prep work ahead. Then while the pasta water is heating (Step 1), you can sauté the bacon (Step 2). When the bacon is cooked, remove it from the pan and set it aside while you cook the pasta (Step 7). About 5 minutes before the pasta is done cooking, place the frying pan back on stovetop heat, sauté the garlic (Step 8), and continue with the recipe.
- If you use fresh pasta in this dish, remember that it cooks very quickly (usually in a minute or two), so adjust the timing of the recipe accordingly.
- What kind of lettuce to use in this recipe? We like Little Gem (also known as Sweet Gem). This variety is a hybrid combo of romaine, sweet butter, and iceberg lettuces. It looks like miniature romaine lettuce and has wonderful flavor. It also has a bit more crunch than romaine (which BTW would be a good substitute in this recipe).
- You could also substitute spinach or leaf lettuce. If you do that, add it to the frying pan, then remove the pan from the heat immediately—both of these greens wilt quickly.
- Fresh, ripe tomatoes are the star of this dish, so feel free to add more than we specify. Our garden is producing loads of cherry tomatoes, so that’s what we used. But any fully ripe tomato will work.
- What if you don’t have access to ripe, in-season tomatoes from your own vegetable garden or a local farmers’ market? Supermarket grape or cherry tomatoes usually have decent flavor year-round and are a good substitute.
- Bacon also plays an important role in this dish, so make sure you use good quality. We always go for a premium brand when we make this recipe. If you can find bacon made by a small local producer, it’s likely to be excellent.
- Make sure the goat cheese you use has been finely crumbled—it blends in better that way, and helps make a light sauce. Our grocery store offers containers of goat cheese that have been pre-crumbled, and that’s what we use. Or you could buy a chunk of goat cheese and crumble it up with a pair of forks.
- For a bit of extra zip, you might want to add some red pepper flakes to this dish. Add them in Step 8, when you sauté the garlic.
- Fresh basil also goes well in this dish. If you’d like to add it: Mince 3 or 4 tablespoons of fresh basil, then add it right at the end, when you add the goat cheese.
- Kosher salt is less salty by volume than regular table salt, so you need more of it (a larger measure) in recipes.
- How much salt and black pepper to use? Whatever tastes good to you. We provide suggested measurements, but in truth we rarely season any dish the same way twice. Just taste and adjust, and it’ll be good. If in doubt, use less; you can always add more at table.
Victory at Garden
“This is one of the best dishes you’ve made in months,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “And we’re using our own tomatoes. We finally managed to harvest some before the squirrels got to them!”
“I think I’ve finally thwarted those pesky rodents,” I said. “By using one of the protective tomato cages I built last year—the ones with heavy-duty plastic netting.”
“Of course, the squirrels chewed right through that,” said Mrs K R. “Then they took a bite out of each tomato—and tossed the rest aside.”
“Well, this year I covered the plastic with a new layer of wire netting,” I said. “They haven’t managed to get through that. Pretty sharp, wouldn't you say?”
“OK, but just how much have you spent altogether on anti-squirrel devices?” asked Mrs K R. “By my calculation, these tomatoes must be costing us $25 a pound. Or more.”
“Hey, these tomatoes are a true delight,” I said. “You can’t put a price on happiness!”
“Or on bragging rights,” said Mrs K R. “When you finally outwit squirrels.”
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