LA BELLA SPAGHETTI AL POMODORO E BASILICO. There it is, my version of the Napoletana favorite, a simple plate of Spaghetti or pasta with a simple tomato sauce. If you find yourself at a high-end Italian restaurant you may be twirling your fork around a $ 24.00 priced portion. Don’t get me wrong, many of them, like Scott Conant’s version at Scarpetta are very delicious but really, it’s tomatoes, pasta and not much else. Plus I need more on my plate, the portion is just silly as a main course. Don’t think I mean to imply that Tomato and pasta is solely the domain of the city of Naples, but it is the most emblematic dish of the city along with some other favorites. As La Bella Sofia Loren once exclaimed..”Everything I have I owe to Spaghetti”. I don’t argue with an expert and native!! So SPAGHETTI, in today’s world we have dried and fresh to choose from. Choose this…DRIED. Why? It’s way more Napoletana. The debate over dried being the lesser of the two is nonsense. They each have their specific uses. No contests..stop the pasta/macaroni insanity. Never feel “less than” when you are using dried pasta, especially Spaghetti. This is the most common brand that I use for sheer quality and consistency, DeCECCO from Italy: Does the pasta matter? Yes, yes it does. Find pastas that are made in Italy, like DeCecco or Delverde just to mention the most popular in the U.S. from Italy. Yes, there are many (Barilla sold in the U.S. is made here, it’s not exactly the same as it’s counterpart made in Italy.) but generally the cheaper the price per pound the lower the quality. Lower quality results in a less “toothsome” chew with the pasta. DeCecco is always spot on for me. Then there are the Italian made Artiginale types of Pasta (Artisanal), made in smaller batches and generally upwards of 4.99 @lb. They are awesome but not necessary. Let your economic comfort zone and availability be your guide. Next let’s discuss the tomato…I’m sold on San Marzano tomatoes for this sauce. They are readily available in most cases and their canned nature makes it an easy delicious choice. Why are they prized? Could you not just use another domestic or Italian plum? Sure you could but as with anything in life nature gave the San Marzano a little more in the all around perfect department. Things to look for…a DOP on the label, the grown and packed in Italy appearing on the label, and no ingredients like garlic,onion, etc. Sometimes they do come with a basil leaf, I don’t mind that. They are less acidic (no need to balance with sugar), meatier so they cook into a sauce quicker. Have I sold you yet? LOL.
SPAGHETTI AL POMODORO
TIME: 30 mintues SERVES: 4-6
1 28 oz CAN SAN MARZANO TOMATOES CRUSHED WELL WITH YOUR HANDS (ok, take your time here and enjoy the age old practice of crushing “pummurola” with your hands. Can you use a food processor or blender? Yes you can but you will break the tomatoes down too much and have a more watery blend, more water, longer cooking)
3 tbs. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
3 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC (OR 3 WHOLE CLOVES, THE WHOLE CLOVE SAUTEED AND REMOVED IS THE MORE ITALIAN WAY TO COOK THIS)
KOSHER OR COARSE SEA SALT TO TASTE
PINCH OF PEPERONCINO
6 FRESH BASIL LEAVES
1 LB. GOOD QUALITY ITALIAN MADE DRIED SPAGHETTI, COOKED TILL JUST UNDER AL DENTE ACCORDING TO THE PACAKGE DIRECTIONS
1 TBS UNSALTED BUTTER (OPTIONAL)
PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO OR PECORINO ROMANO
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the peperoncino, some salt, and the garlic. If using sliced let it just get very light golden, then add the tomatoes. If using whole, let them take on some color, press down gently on them (not too hard, the hot oil will spray back at you)remove them. Add the tomatoes at that point. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add 3 basil leaves. Let this cook down for 20minutes-25 minutes, just until it’s thickened. While the sauce was cooking you will make the spaghetti till a few minutes under al dente. Drain, reserving 2 tbs of the cooking water, you may need it. Add the pasta to the sauce and coat well and let it cook for about 2 minutes, no more. Remove from the flame. Add the other basil leaves. Serve in 5 minutes grating fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano over each serving OR (option 2)…add the butter to the pan and let it melt into the pasta, gently twirling to coat all the spaghetti. Then serve.
Some will say, no cheese…I say, eat this as you like. Cheese on mine? Yes please, I like.
I add the butter finish because many U.S.Restaurants do that and people seem to likeit. How do I like it? Without the butter, but I leave the butter or not up to your taste. Now there is much debate over butter or not. Who Am I to argue with Chef Scott Conant who insists on it in his signature Spaghetti al Pomodoro. However, I’m more in the camp of Rosario Procino, owner of Ribalta, a shrine to the Napoletana style of cooking in NYC. His view is that butter takes something away from the taste of the tomato. I think so too. But, America loves the taste of butter in Tomato sauce so it’s a common and liked taste. I’m being fair…but you’re not getting it with butter at my table, lol.