Pasta al Pomodoro Recipe
Pasta al Pomodoro is one of the most famous Italian dishes. The dish was created in Naples, south Italy by Ippolito Cavalcanti in the early 1800’s.
The original Pasta al Pomodoro was called “Vermicelli Al Pomodoro”, vermicelli being “real spaghetti”, thicker and with a longer cooking time in respect to today’s modern spaghetti. Back in the day, it was traditional to eat vermicelli with your hands. Needless to say, that tradition did not stick around.
Pasta al Pomodoro aka pasta with tomato sauce for us American folks is a hit with the kids, family dinners, and late night cooking sessions. It’s super easy to whip up and you don’t need too many ingredients. It is a staple in Italian home cooking.
The Tomato Sauce
The perfect tomato sauce: We treat it as if it’s the Holy Grail of modern Italian cooking. How many times have you heard someone say: ‘Oh, he makes the best tomato sauce?’ or ‘My aunt has the best tomato sauce recipe’. If only we had a dollar for every time someone said that we… well we probably wouldn’t be writing this post.
For us, the key to a great tomato sauce are:
- Really great tomatoes. No, you don’t have to pull a Barefoot Contessa and grow your own tomatoes, but you should (somewhat) know where they come from.
- Very few ingredients. Think less is more, a minimalists dream.
That’s it. No need to dump your entire vegetable drawer in the pan. All you need are a few ripe delicious tomatoes (or canned), garlic, extra virgin olive oil, basil, and salt.
The tomatoes in a good pasta sauce are the star, so should be able to shine. We give the tomatoes the glory they deserve by allowing them to cook down to the perfect consistency. The sauce should coat/stick to the pasta. Keep the lid on the sauce and let it cook until the sauce thickens.
The key to a good pasta is properly salted pasta water. The pasta water should taste like the mediterranean sea (not the ocean). We will admit, we prefer our pasta cooked a bit past ‘al dente’; however, for the sake of tradition, we advise you to cook the pasta according to the directions on the package.
Serves 4 people
- 10 medium (3″) tomatoes
- 1 garlic clove
- 4 basil leaves
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus 4 tsp for finishing)
- 250 grams spaghetti or penne (0.75lbs)
- 2 tbsp coarse sea salt + 1 tsp
- 1 medium calabrian pepper (optional)
- 4 tbsp parmigiano reggiano (optional)
- Fill a medium large pot with water, add salt. Bring to a boil.
- Smash garlic gloves with side of knife or chop each clove into 2-3 large pieces (do not chop fine it will burn). Chop (optional) calabrian pepper into 2-3 pieces.
- Cut tomatoes into 1″ chunks.
- Heat a medium-large frying pan on medium heat and add 2 tbsp olive oil, garlic, and (optional) Calabrian chili pepper. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until garlic has ‘scented’ oil and develops a warm buttery yellow color. Tip: Tilt the pan down to ‘boil’ the garlic and oil over direct heat. If your oil smokes or garlic starts to burn turn heat to medium low or low. Everyones cooktop is different, practice makes perfect.
- Add the tomatoes to the pan and stir with a wooden spoon. Cover the pan with a lid. Cook 12-15 minutes on medium heat, stirring every 3-4 minutes.
- While tomatoes are cooking, finely grate (optional) parmigiano reggiano.
- Add basil and 1 tsp salt (plus some to taste) to tomatoes at the very end of the cooking process. The sauce should have a smooth yet thick consistency. If your sauce is a little thin you can continue to cook for a few more minutes or simply turn off the heat and wait several minutes. If sauce is too thick fix it later with pasta water.
- Add pasta to water, stirring every 2 minutes. Cook pasta 2-3 minutes before ‘al dente’ (see package for cooking time). Strain the pasta and turn the sauce to medium heat.
- Add the pasta to the sauce. Turn heat up to high and stir. Continue stirring clockwise or counterclockwise (choose one) for 2 minutes.
- Turn off heat and add optional parmigiano reggiano.
- Plate pasta immediately. Finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, basil, and more optional grated parmigiano reggiano.