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Summer's best pasta

Summer’s best pasta, a la Chef Michael Ayoub. (Photo credit: Doug Young)

Chef Michael Ayoub in his magical — and abundant! — Southampton vegetable garden. (Photo credit: Doug Young)

Meandering through the residential streets of Southampton, there’s a particular corner property that may make you wonder if you’ve stumbled upon a secret mini-farm. Peaking over the blooming rose of Sharon bushes, you’ll notice tall PVC pipe arches covered in ripe, cherry tomatoes, beckoning to be picked.

You may even spot the homeowner, chef Michael Ayoub, basket in hand, gathering produce in his elaborate, organic vegetable garden.

Ayoub is the chef and owner of the wood-fired Neapolitan pizzeria, Fornino. With three locations in Brooklyn, his prolific garden is no weekend afterthought.

He and his wife, Patricia, started growing organic tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini and other produce specifically for Fornino back in 2004 — and it’s impressive.

It not only supplies produce for his artisanal Neapolitan pizzas, but the multitude of myriad veggies includes 57 varieties of vine-ripe tomatoes and 15 varieties of peppers, some of which he dries and uses for spices on his pies.   

The abundant, freshly picked cherry tomatoes used in this recipe take the sun-ripened factor to new levels by actually letting solar power do some of the prep work.

Using a medley of uncommon varieties from Rapunzel (named after the fairytale character for its long cascading trusses) to Pink Tiger (sweetly acidic), Ayoub slices the tomatoes, adds garlic, olive oil and basil to an earthenware crock, covers with saran wrap and lets the summer’s solar power do its work. It’s a method he refers to not as sun-dried, an Italian, centuries-old technique, but as “sun-kissed.”

The summer’s sun rays act as the perfect catalyst to warm and meld the flavors of fresh tomatoes off the vine. (Photo credit: Doug Young)

After a few hours, they are ready to be tossed with the cooked pasta — in this case, mezze rigatoni, a stout version of the popular pasta shape.

Sheep’s milk ricotta is chef Michael Ayoub’s personal pick for this ultimate summer pasta dish. (Photo credit: Doug Young)

“This is the freshest tomato pasta you can have,” raves Ayoub. “It’s my favorite dish for the summer.”

After tossing the pasta with the tomatoes, some recipes would call for adding mozzarella. Ayoub opts to top the pasta with a dollop of ricotta, specifically made with sheep milk. ‘

“It’s my favorite type of ricotta in all the world,” says Ayoub, “it’s a little sweeter than cow’s milk and has a richer consistency. It’s difficult to find, so when you do, get yourself a little extra.”

Cherry tomatoes will not be difficult to find here on the South Fork this time of year and many stands like Balsam, Amber Waves or Pike Farms carry the coveted sun golds, too.

Garnish with some torn basil for a delicious, simple al fresco lunch. One final tip from Ayoub: “I always like to bruise the basil leaves a little as I tear them, this way you get the great oil out of them.”

Summer’s best pasta from chef Michael Ayoub

Prep Time 4 hours
Cook Time 14 minutes


  • 14 oz cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 lb mezze rigatoni
  • 1 clove garlic, finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • a handful of fresh, torn basil leaves
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese (sheep's milk, preferably)


  • On a sunny day, cut your cherry tomatoes in half and place them in an earthenware bowl. Add half cup of olive oil, a pinch of salt, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and half of a handful of torn basil. Cover the bowl tightly with Saran wrap. Place the bowl in a sunny spot for 3 to 4 hours.
  • Cook the mezze rigatoni in boiling salted water according to package directions (al dente is best), around 12 to 14 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  • Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, gently folding to make sure all pasta is covered. Tear the remaining basil and add on top.
  • Spoon a generous heaping of ricotta cheese in the center and top, garnish with a sprig of basil.
  • Enjoy al fresco with your favorite people.