To improve the flavor of this sauce slice the garlic then toast it.
You say tomato, they say pomodoro.
And when they say it, they mean it. That’s because the Italians are champions of simple, classically delicious ways of using fresh tomatoes. And they should be; they’ve been cultivating them for hundreds of years.
One of the many basic ways they prepare garden-fresh tomatoes is in a pomodoro sauce made with basil and garlic tossed with pasta. This pasta is just that, noodles and tomatoes, a dish that embodies the core philosophy of Italian food — letting a few perfectly ripe ingredients shine.
I recently returned from a cooking expedition to Italy where I learned how to prepare pomodoro sauce from those who know best — Italian mothers and grandmothers.
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One particular day sticks in my mind. I was getting ready to do what I always do — smash garlic cloves by laying the flat side of a knife on top of them and lightly whacking it with the palm of my hand. As I got ready to give the garlic a good slam, the Italian mama cooking with me, named Lucia, screamed “No!” so loud you could hear her in France.
Then she explained that the garlic for the pomodoro sauce had to be sliced. I didn’t know why until I tasted her pomodoro sauce. It blew me away. The sliced garlic, sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil to almost dark brown but not burned, imparted a taste explosion in my mouth that you just can’t get from the usual ways of preparing and tossing garlic into a dish.
So when you make this recipe, do not chop the garlic. Do not press the garlic. Do not smash or whack the garlic. And by all means, do not use that pre-diced stuff in the jar. If you do any of the above, you have performed an illegal operation. Go to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
Do take the time to find fresh tomatoes, ripe ones, like from the vine. I know they may be only the stuff of lore in and around your community, but they do exist. And now is the perfect time to go out and search for them.
As I do with all my Now Eat This! recipes, I’ve cut way back on the calories and fat from the traditional 840-calorie-per-serving Italian version, but I guarantee you’ll get a real, full tomato flavor in this 281-calorie version. I also cut the fat by nearly two-thirds, from 17 grams per serving to just 6 grams.
Any variety of tomato works in this recipe so long as they are very ripe. I prefer small tomatoes, such as cherry, pear or grape, because they can be tossed right in, skins and all. For larger tomatoes, peel them first, then chop them. This recipe takes no more than 30 minutes to get on the table. The best sauce, I discovered after years of sauce-making, is the least cooked.
— Don’t stir or toss the pasta with tongs as they tend to break the noodles.
— If the noodles are not cooked enough to your liking, simply add a little more pasta water and cook longer in the pan with the sauce.
Makes 4 servings
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch red pepper flakes (peperoncino)
16 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces, divided
2 pints very ripe grape tomatoes (about 80 grape tomatoes)
8 ounces dry kamut spaghetti
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated, divided
1. In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt.
2. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-low, heat 1/2 tablespoon of the oil. Add the garlic slices and toast, stirring constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until lightly browned. Watch closely so garlic doesn’t burn. Increase the heat to medium, add the red pepper flakes and half of the basil leaves. Cook for 30 seconds, then add the grape tomatoes.
3. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente according to package directions, usually about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Cook the grape tomatoes for about 5 minutes, or until they start to blister and the skins pop. Mash the tomatoes gently with a potato masher or fork to make a pulp, then turn off the heat. Season lightly with salt and black pepper.
5. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Add the drained pasta and reserved pasta water to the tomato mixture. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add half of the cheese. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until the sauce begins to cling to the noodles, using a heat resistant rubber spatula to toss the pasta to coat evenly.
6. Add the remaining basil and olive oil and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the pasta among 4 plates and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 281 calories; 6 g fat (19 percent of total calories, 2 g saturated); 6 mg cholesterol; 46 g carbohydrate; 8 g protein; 6 g fiber; 260 mg sodium.
Rocco DiSpirito is author of the “Now Eat This!” and “Now Eat This! Diet” cookbooks.