“What do you do for a living?” they ask. I never know how my response will go over or which questions will follow. Most often, the questions are, “How did you get into that?” and, “where do you get your recipes?” On a recent flight, I got a bold, “How do you make money doing that?!” from my seat mate. All fine questions, mind you.
I never have a good answer to the recipe source question. Typically, the recipes are a composite of ideas from restaurant meals, magazines, other blogs, cookbooks and suggestions from friends and readers. Sometimes I wake up with ideas; sometimes they pop into my head when I open my refrigerator; sometimes they come to me when I’m deep in conversation during happy hour. I always try my best to give credit where credit is due.
Today’s recipe is more straightforward—it’s from an old issue of Gourmet Magazine that I’ve been wanting to try forever, courtesy of a special edition from Bon Appetit… cross-referenced with America’s Test Kitchen’s vegetarian cookbook and fiddled with to meet my expectations. That’s pretty straightforward for me these days.
I finally got a chance to try it when I came across some big, juicy, local tomatoes at Whole Foods. I knew just what to do with them and flipped open my sources when I got home. America’s Test Kitchen wanted me to chop up the tomatoes and let them marinate for up to three hours, but I was hungry-bordering-on-hangry, and a three-hour wait wouldn’t do.
Gourmet’s version suggested grating a portion of the tomatoes to get some nice and juicy pulp, then letting the mixture marinate for 10 minutes. Much better! I mixed up the sauce and let it rest while I brought a pot of water to boil and cooked my pasta. Both sources suggested simply tossing the raw tomato sauce with hot cooked pasta, but I thought it was a little too raw in that state, a little too what’s-pico-de-gallo-doing-in-my-pasta, if you will.
I wasn’t sure the pasta was blog-worthy until I tried my reheated leftovers. They were amazing. I took that as inspiration and tried just barely cooking the fresh tomato sauce while tossing the pasta with a little bit of starchy cooking water. That was just the ticket—the tomatoes benefit from a little warmth, and the starchy cooking water turns the raw tomato runoff into a sauce that lightly coats the spaghetti.
Granted, this recipe’s flavor will be almost entirely dependent upon the tomatoes you use, so pick some good ones. You want ripe, almost over-ripe tomatoes. You can, of course, skip my suggestion to warm up the sauce and just toss it with warm pasta for Italian-flavored tomato pasta.
I always use whole grain pasta for more protein and fiber, and DeLallo’s 100 percent whole wheat pastas manage to do so without sacrificing flavor or texture. (That’s why I work with them! They’re the best!) Last but not least, I felt like Parmesan added quite a bit of personality to this dish, but check my notes for substitution suggestions. Let’s hear it for ripe summer tomatoes!
- 1½ pounds ripe tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon sugar, optional
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 very small garlic clove (or ½ medium clove), pressed or minced
- ½ pound whole grain thin spaghetti or angel-hair pasta or rotini/fusilli or penne
- Optional but recommended: ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
- Core and coarsely chop two-thirds of the tomatoes. Halve the remaining tomatoes down the middle and discard the tough top part where the tomatoes met the stem, if it exists. Rub the cut sides of the tomatoes against the large holes of a box grater set in a large bowl. Leave the tomato pulp in the bowl and discard the skin.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, sugar, several twists of freshly ground black pepper and the pressed garlic to the bowl. Mix well. Let the mixture marinate while you cook the pasta.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and then cook the pasta just until al dente, according to package directions. Reserve about a cup of the pasta cooking water before draining the pasta.
- Drain the pasta, then immediately return it to the pot. Pour in all of the tomato sauce and a small splash (about ¼ cup) of the pasta cooking water. Cook over medium-low heat for about 1 to 2 minutes, tossing often (gentle now!), just long enough for the tomatoes to soften a bit and for the starchy tomato water to coat the pasta.
- Remove from heat and toss with (optional) Parmesan and (mandatory) basil. Serve immediately.
Make it vegan: Skip the Parmesan cheese. You can make up for some of the cheesy flavor with a light sprinkle of nutritional yeast or, better yet, vegan Parmesan.
Make it gluten free: Use a firm gluten-free pasta, like a corn and quinoa blend.