I was introduced to this dish probably 30 years ago. I won’t repeat the story here, but I described it at length in this November, 2015 post.
It’s an absolutely delicious tomato sauce, although so simple that you feel like you’re not actually cooking, just watching the sauce cook itself, and the pasta is pretty special too. Like all cooking, and especially the most minimal dishes, the goodness depends as much on the quality of the ingredients as on the professionalism of the cook. I try really hard when assembling this one.
In an enameled cast iron pot or other non-reactive pan, large enough to hold the pasta after it’s been cooked, sauté 2 or 3 cloves in 4 to 5 tablespoons of olive oil, but only until the garlic is pungent.
Add one 28-ounce can of real San Marzano tomatoes (already-chopped or whole, and ideally without basil), crush the tomatoes with a wooden spoon if they are whole, sauté uncovered at high heat for 5 minutes, stirring a few times to reduce the liquid (yes, the juices will spatter a bit; I use a black apron and check the surrounding environment after this step).
Reduce the heat to very low, so the sauce is barely bubbling, add sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste, and simmer for a full 30 minutes.
Add a few whole leaves of fresh basil and continue simmering for 15 minutes more, again stirring occasionally.
Note: The sauce can be prepared a little ahead of time, to avoid any competition with the boiling pasta.
When the pasta has cooked, drain it and add it to the pan, or mix sauce and pasta in a warm bowl.
Serve, but do not add cheese.
- On Sunday I halved the recipe and used Setaro Paccheri from Buon Italia, cooked barely al dente, a point which is just about perfect for this perfect, very rich sugo. It was the very same pasta I’d first seen for the first time many years ago in a storage room filled with imported foods inside the West Village hair salon run by Nic Soccodato, my barbiere Salernitano/sometime backroom Importatore di prodotti Salerno. I asked him what kind of sauce would accompany these large loops and he generously shared his wife’s recipe for a sauce his family enjoyed as a special treat – on Sundays! I started the sauce in a large enameled cast iron pot with 3 tablespoons of Whole Foods Market house Portuguese olive oil and 3 large cloves of Rocambole garlic from Keith’s Farm (more garlic than I usually use), one 14 oz can of Afeltra Pomodoro S. Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino D.O.P. (which is from Nic’s patria) from Eataly, and because it was winter I used 3 whole basil leaves taken from a package of Gotham Greens Rooftop basil from Whole Foods that I had carefully stored frozen between sheets of waxed paper last year. And that was it.
There was an antipasto, one of the rewards of serving such a simple main course.
- slices of local salame Biellese sallumeria from Eataly, served with a bit of watercress, also from Eataly, both drizzled with a little Whole Foods Market in-house Portuguese olive oil
- slices of ’12 Grain & Seed bread’ from Bread Alone in the Union Square Greenmarket
- the wine throughout was an Italian (Campania) red, Ocone, Aglianico del Taburno ‘Apollo’ 2012, from Flatiron Wines & Spirits
- the music was Mozart’s 1769 opera, ‘La Finta Semplice’, Peter Schreier conducting the Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Chamber Orchestra