My journey with pasta sauce is long from over, but now I can at least breath easy with it. Let’s just say my family has very little trace to Italy, therefore the passed-down-secret pasta sauce does not exist in this fam. I’ve always been fascinated with Italian cooking, especially sauces. Which sauce pairs best with which noodle? Does it matter the cheese? Cheese in the sauce? No cheese in the sauce? Vegetables? DSHFdsfkds. So many questions. When it comes down to it, I want to know the do’s and don’ts – the rights the wrongs – the rule of thumb – of authentic Italian sauces. I can’t afford that dreamy vacation to Italy so for now I’ll just hit the books.
I’ve always had a go-to pasta sauce, but wasn’t truly satisfied nor comfortable with the long list of ingredients in the sauce. I had a recipe on here titled “Basic Pasta Sauce,” but deleted it knowing there was something better out there. A few months ago I was talking to a friend, who has a passionate Italian grandmother, and he lended me a few tips:
- If it’s not tomato season, use San Marzano canned tomatoes. Pricey, but worth it.
- Less is more
- Cook out the tomatoes
I gathered up those tips, did a little research, and came to the conclusion that grandmothers know best. The article I found most intriguing was New York Times Marinara Worth Mastering. Several credited authors got together for this article to give articulate, straight-forward, down right delicious pasta sauce makin’ guidelines. What it came down to was this:
- Use only the freshest of ingredients. If tomatoes are ripe and plum, don’t think twice about a can. If not, use San Marzano.
- Though nothing wrong with aromatic vegetables and such, simple combinations are best.
- The trick is to cook it at a vigerious simmer
Before I continue on with the article, when I was researching on places to eat for my recent New York City trip, I came across Scarpetta’s owned by chef Scott Contant. Although I didn’t make it to his restaurant, I did come across his tomato basil spaghetti recipe. Like woah! Could it be true? Did he really share his recipe? I don’t know if it is or isn’t, but I was going to try it with those tips I had recently picked up on.
About those tips, even though the New York Times’ article was focused on a marina sauce, I decided to use those guidelines for the Scarpetta’s tomato basil sauce. All of those links are good reads, contain viable info, and have some tasty pics – so check them out!
So about this sauce (finally).
Basically what I did was strain out the can of San Marzano, catching as many seeds as I could. I cooked that in a skillet for about 30 minutes with a very minimal amount of good quality olive oil and kosher salt. While that was working up magic, I infused 1/4 c. of the olive oil with fresh basil, red pepper flakes, and sliced garlic. I let that cook until the garlic was brown and the oil was fragrant.
Once the oil was done I strained it and mixed it in with the tomatoes. In the midst of all that, I cooked spaghetti al dente. Once the noodles were just finished I added a ladle of sauce into a new pan, noodles straight from the pasta water, a dollop of butter, and chiffonade basil. Gave that a twirl and a toss and dinner was served.
Delicious dinner I must add.
- 32 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
- 2 T. olive oil
- kosher salt
- 1/4 c. olive oil
- 3-4 fresh basil leaves with stems
- 3-4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
- pinch red pepper flakes
- spaghetti noodles (dried or fresh)
- Fresh basil - chiffonade
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- Black pepper
- 1 T. butter
- Take out each tomato from the can and remove as many seeds as possible. While doing so, crush with hands or potato masher. Transfer to a bowl and strain remaining sauce from the can to remove the seeds. Add to the bowl with the tomatoes.
- Reserve can with 1/2 c. of water.
- Heat 2 T. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes and sauce. Bring to a boil and cook until thickened. Reduce the heat and stir in reserved water. Season with kosher salt. Process should take roughly 30 minutes.
- Heat 1/4 c. oil in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat. Once hot, add the basil leaves, red pepper flakes, and garlic. Cook until the garlic has just browned. Remove from heat and strain.
- Cook spaghetti in salted water until al dente. Once nearly finished, add the strained oil into the tomato sauce and combine.
- Season the sauce with pepper and more salt if needed.
- Once noodles are al dente, lift with tongs above water allowing water to drip, then transfer into a new small pan with a ladle of sauce and tablespoon (or less) of butter.. Toss noodles then transfer to a plate.
- Garnish with basil and parm. cheese.
- If it's tomato season, use 1 lb. of fresh roma tomatoes (concassed). To concasse a tomato, use a paring knife to cut an "X" at the bottom of the tomato. Place in boiling water for 30 seconds or until the skin starts to peel back. Quickly transfer to an ice bath and remove the skin. Cut open and remove seeds.
- Use good quality olive oil
- To chiffonade basil, roll into a cylinder then cut lengthwise.
- If you feel there is not enough tomatoes for the sauce, add a can of crushed tomatoes.