Pasta with Spicy Fresh Tomato Sauce and Ricotta

Pasta tossed with tomato sauce and topped with ricotta is always a winning combo.


  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound penne rigate or other short-cut pasta
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 Fresno chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped, or 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 5-6 ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel or fennel pollen
  • 1 cup fresh sheep’s- or cow’s-milk ricotta
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream or half-and-half
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped


Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a ladleful of the cooking water.

While the pasta is working, in a deep skillet or large saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons EVOO, three turns of the pan, over medium-high heat. Stir in the fennel seeds for 30 seconds. Stir in the chili pepper and garlic for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and season with salt, pepper and the ground fennel (or fennel pollen). Cook, stirring, for 20 minutes. Stir in the reserved pasta cooking water.

In a small bowl, stir together the ricotta, cream, thyme and remaiing 1 tablespoon EVOO. Season with salt.

Serve the pasta in shallow bowls with large dollops of the ricotta mixture for stirring in as you eat. Pass the remaining ricotta mixture at the table.

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