Pasta and tomato sauce: not exactly revolutionary. It's a combination favored universally for its ease of preparation, if not, in these recession-weary times, for its frugality — what could be simpler than boiling a fistful of dried spaghetti and dumping in a jar of sauce at the end? Other than slapping together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, not much.
Would you guess, then, the radical, disarming potential that this dish has when both the pasta and the sauce are homemade instead of thrown in the pot straight from the packaging? Considering this pasta pomodoro is made from only six ingredients, it's remarkable just how different it tastes from the store-bought version: rich, concentrated, full of natural sweetness, unadulterated even with onion or garlic. It's a pure distillation of a late summer tomato. The pasta too, when made fresh, is tender and toothsome, and it wears its ruby sauce with panache.
Sure, there's no question that more effort is required when making both components from scratch. But the result is incomparably better, so much so that it might as well be another dish entirely.
Note: You can always use fresh, store-bought pasta instead of making your own and cook it the same way.
For the pasta
- 1 cup flour
- Dash of salt
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
For the pomodoro sauce
- 15 plum or Roma tomatoes, blanched and skinned
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup reserved pasta cooking water
- Basil, to garnish
For the pasta
To make the pasta, blend together the flour and salt. In a large bowl or on a counter or other flat surface, shape the flour into a small mound and form a well in the center. In a small bowl, lightly mix together the egg and the olive oil.
Pour the egg and olive oil mixture carefully into the middle of the flour well. Gently begin to whisk from the center with a fork, slowly incorporating more flour into the liquid in the middle of the mound. Continue to blend until the dough has come together and all of the ingredients are incorporated. Knead the dough briefly until it is smooth, shape it into a flat disk, and wrap in cling-wrap. Let it rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
When the dough has rested, remove from the fridge. To form the sheets of pasta dough using a pasta roller, divide the disk of dough into 4 or 5 small sections. Flatten each section gently with your hands before putting through the roller: start with the roller at the widest setting and feed the dough through, before switching to the medium setting and feeding it through again. It should be long and quite thin, roughly 1/8-inch thick. Once all of the sections of the dough have been rolled out, flour lightly and let the sheets rest flat on a counter (without overlapping) to dry slightly. After the dough has dried for about 5 minutes, feed it through the pasta cutter to get whichever shape you desire (I made a fettuccini). After the pasta has been cut, hang or drape it to let it dry until it is no longer sticky to the touch, at least 10 minutes. If you do not have a pasta roller and cutter, you can roll the pasta out by hand with a rolling pin and cut it into strips with a knife or pizza roller.
Cook the pasta in salted water at a rolling boil for about 5 minutes, until tender and al dente. Reserve 1/3 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain and toss lightly in olive oil before serving to prevent sticking.
For the pomodoro sauce
Halve the blanched tomatoes and remove the seeds and any green area near the stem before quartering.
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over high heat until very hot. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 5 minutes over high heat until the tomatoes start to break down and release a large amount of liquid. Lower the heat to medium-high and start breaking up the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon: the sauce will be somewhat chunky but should not have very large tomato pieces in it.
Once the tomatoes have been broken down the sauce will look soupy. Let reduce for at least 25 minutes, or until the sauce has become thicker and lost much of its liquid. Taste throughout to check for salt and pepper and adjust accordingly. After 25 minutes, add the pasta cooking water and let reduce again for 5-10 minutes. The sauce should be relatively thick, sweet, and fragrant.
To serve, toss the pasta with the sauce and top with torn basil leaves.