Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise and arrange cut side up on an oiled baking tray. Mix oil with chopped garlic and red pepper flakes (optional – basil) and spoon over tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with some more oil. Roast in a pre-heated 400o oven for 45 minutes. In a bowl, mash about ½ of the roasted tomatoes, add some pasta water & oil if necessary to get to the right consistency. Mix with pasta and then add 2 or 3 of the un-mashed halves to each dish. Serve with grated cheese.
Roasted Tomato Sauce Northern Style
A northern friend (Norther Italian, that is) gave me this recipe. Why else would there be butter in tomato sauce instead of olive oil? Try not to think about that when you eat it. It’s really very good.
Pre-heat the oven to 425o. Mix all the ingredients (except pasta) in a baking dish that’s been coated with oil. Roast 20 minutes, mix and add some hot water if it’s too dry. Roast for another 15 minutes, add about ½ cup of pasta water and mash to break up garlic and tomatoes. The sauce should be thick and concentrated. Add 1lb cooked pasta, mix and coat. Serve with grated cheese.
Basilico is a beautiful plant and although pesto is very tasty it’s just not a pretty sauce. I even tried making it with purple basil – still didn’t look terrific but tasted good.
Put all the ingredients but just 1/2 of the nuts, in a food processor or blender. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts chop them coarsely first).
Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the second half of the nuts and pulse briefly leaving them in a larger size.
2. Sicilian Pesto
This is similar to the standard pesto but the main differences are the addition of tomatoes and there is less basil. This is one of the special sauces that is traditionally served with only one particular type of pasta – bussiate. It’s made by wrapping pasta dough around a round, skewer-like piece of wood, in Italian called a buso, to form a spiral. It makes a short cork screw shape that’s good for holding onto the pesto. If you can’t get bussiate, try gemelli, spiralini or even short fusilli.
Put the tomatoes in a blender or food processor and finely chop. Then pour the chopped tomatoes into a strainer and drain the liquid and discard. Put the tomatoes with all the other ingredients back into the blender or processor until finely ground.
For both of the above recipes:
The sauce just needs to be at room temperature, not cooked. If it’s too thick, thin it with a little pasta water and then mix it with the pasta. Tear a few fresh basil leaves and sprinkle over the pasta before serving. Serve with extra cheese.
FYI – Pesto doesn’t have to made with basil. It’s simply a sauce made using a mortar and pestle (pestello in Italian), or it’s modern equivalent, a blender or food processor.
Here’s another home style dish that you don’t see on a restaurant menu. Our mother served soup or some type of minestra for dinner every evening along with a second course. Monday pasta patate, Tuesday pasta piselli, Wednesday pasta lenticchie, etc.
Pasta Lenticchie ala Piccola Nicolina
Pick over the lentils and rinse them in a scolo pasta (colander). Set aside. Heat the olive oil in a 3-quart pot and add the carrots, garlic and celery. Sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the rinsed lentils, salt and pepper and stir. Add enough water to cover plus an inch and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until lentils are tender (about 40 minutes). Add the ditalini or broken spaghetti and cook for 8 minutes.
Note: always taste as you are cooking. Lentils and broken pasta vary in size therefore the cooking time may vary.
Green pepperonciniinfused oil is good to drizzle on top of each serving. Please do not sprinkle cheese on this.
Mac and Cheese Italian Style is Italian comfort food and a cure-all, from a cold to a queasy stomach. If you’re a big fan of Kraft’s orange mac & cheese, maybe this one isn’t for you.
Bring 5 cups of water and chicken stock (½ & ½) to a boil. Add 2 pats of butter and 4 tbsps. oil. Cook the pasta until almost done. Whisk in a beaten egg and finish cooking. When serving, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with pecorino – as much as you like.
Let me start by saying that there is no such thing as spaghetti sauce. It’s a term of art and means too many different things to different people. Whatever sauce you put on spaghetti is, of course, spaghetti sauce. I think what most people, i.e. those not brought up in an Italian household, mean by spaghetti sauce is tomato sauce that can be used on not just spaghetti but other types of pasta as well. Even that title isn’t specific enough to cover the many variations of the use of tomatoes in the making of pasta sauce. So let’s be a bit more precise and talk about some the various kinds of sauce made with tomatoes.
I’ll start with the most basic – marinara sauce. Not all Italian tomato sauce is marinara sauce. This three ingredient sauce is simple enough to make on a small fishing boat, hence the name – mariner. It’s supposed to be fresh and simple so don’t feel something is missing because there are no herbs and spices to sprinkle in. Also it uses just one aromatic, garlic, so no onions.
Marinara sauce has multiple uses: delicious with pasta (we used to have this meatless sauce when we were kids on Friday nights when meat wasn’t an option), the perfect sauce for eggplant parmigiana, eggs in purgatory, etc.
Cut garlic in large pieces so they can easily be avoided or removed. Very lightly brown it in the olive oil. Add one large can (28 oz.) of crushed tomatoes (or about a pound and a half of cored and chopped fresh tomatoes). Add salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Simmer 1/2 hour on medium heat and it’s done. Maybe simmer a little longer if you’re using fresh tomatoes. It’s so simple and fresh tasting, you should try to keep it simple but if you must, a little cheese
The next step, using the basic marinara sauce above –
For Seafood Sauce – double ingredients. While sauce is simmering add some sliced filet (use something inexpensive like scrod rather than sole) to thicken it and about a teaspoon dried oregano. Ten minutes before it’s done you can add clams, mussels, shrimps, scallops, lobster tails, or any combination.
Another variation for Seafood Sauce – start with marina sauce. Add, in order for cooking time – clams, mussels, shrimp & scallops. Dissolve ½ teaspoon of saffron in a little warm water and add and simmer for a few minutes before serving. No oregano in this version.
Still another variation – Pasta All’Amatriciana Same as the marinara recipe above but start with browning about a ½ lb. of chopped pancetta and use an onion instead of garlic.
One that’s familiar to lots of people is what’s commonly known as Sunday Gravy. I can’t explain why it’s “gravy” and not sauce but that’s just the way it is and I accept that. SUNDAY GRAVEY
This is just the beginning. Tomato sauce variations are almost limitless.
It’s more than acceptable to use canned if they are San Marzano and there are no other ingredients added to the can.
If you’d like to use fresh here are a few hints -To peel and seed fresh tomatoes,place the tomatoes in boiling water and wait until the outer thin skin cracks. Peel it with your fingers. Cut it on the equator and take each half, squeeze and shake out the seeds. Cut off the stem end and remove some of the core.
Since we’re talking about pasta sauce, here’re a few things to know about pasta:
Use more water than you’d think you’d need – about 4 quarts for 1 pound of pasta.
Add a lot of salt (it can only absorb so much), at least 2 tablespoons for 4 quarts of water.
Try to have the pasta shape compliment the sauce.
Cook until it’s done the way you like it and don’t worry about the Al Dente Police raiding your kitchen.
It’s a good idea to reserve a cup cooking water in case you need to thin the sauce.
Use Parmigiana, Loccatelli, Romano or whatever you like but don’t use too much or think you can put it on everything because it can overpower a delicate dish. If you really want cheese, eat a piece of cheese. Instead of the hard grating cheeses, try dry ricotta salada sometime or maybe a tablespoon of fresh ricotta in your dish before you put in pasta with tomato sauce. Instead of any grated cheese at all, trytoasted bread crumbs, especially on seafood sauces. Type of cheese can vary according to the sauce but NEVER, NEVER with sea food.
I once took my Aunt Lena to the Limehouse, an Italian seafood restaurant on Bayard & Mott in NYs Chinatown and we ordered this. She thought it was terrible and said she could do better. She did.
Simmer red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper and garlic in oil. Add a tomato paste and stir until smooth. Clean out the paste can with a little water (or wine) and add to sauce. Drain two 7 oz. cans of scungilli, add the liquid to the sauce and stir until it’s smooth. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add the scungilli and simmer for another 5 minutes. The sauce should be thick. Add some pasta water to make it the right consistency. This type of sauce is also good with shrimp. Save the shells after you clean the shrimp and boil the shells in some water to make a simple stock. Use that water to thin the sauce.
Do I even have to say it? Its seafood, so no cheese.
“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” – Sophia Loren (probably not true but should be)
Cooking – Let’s start with the basic cooking of pasta – you boil it. First, use more water than you’d think you’d need, about four quarts for one pound. Add a lot of salt, at least 2 tablespoons (it can only absorb so much) and don’t pay attention to what the celebrity chefs say and add a few drops of oil if you want. Some people think it keeps the pasta from sticking together as it cooks and others think it prevents the sauce from adhering to it. Make up your own mind. Pick a pasta shape that compliments the sauce. Cook it until it’s done the way you like it and don’t worry about the Al Dente Police raiding your kitchen. If you have room in the pot you can finish cooking the pasta in your sauce. Save a cup of the pasta water. You can use it if you need to thin the sauce.
Secca vs. Fresca
One isn’t better than the other, they’re just different. Secca is the most common one. It’s the dry pasta you find in every grocery store – think Ronzoni or Buitoni. It’s made with semolina flour (hard durum wheat) and water and can handle the mechanical process required to make it. It lasts for months. Secca is more popular in the south of Italy, it’s cheaper than fresca and can be used with heartier sauces. Fresca is made from bread flour and sometimes eggs. It lasts about 5 days in a refrigerator. It’s tender and absorbent and works with light sauces – try sage and butter.
My mother used almost only secca but on special occasions she would make fresca. Cavatelli, which she pronounced in the Salernitano dialect gav-a-deel, was so simple that I would often help. I’d roll out a snake-like section of her dough, cut it into one inch pieces and then sort of smear them with my thumb. Mine weren’t as pretty as hers but still not bad.
On very special occasions we’d have ravioli. My mother, aunts and grandmother never used anything but a ricotta mix for stuffing. Since we never ate in Italian restaurants I didn’t know they could be made with meat or anything else (pumpkin?) until I was almost an adult. My family’s ravioli were square, large, sealed by crimping with a fork and laid out on a clean sheet on the bed to dry before cooking. You can get good ones at Piemonte on Grand near Mulberry Streets or Pastosa.
Pasta Asciutta – Not a very common term but it’s nice to know. That’s pasta served with sauce as opposed to minestra, a soupy pasta with vegetables i.e. Pasta Piselli, or Minestra and Zuppa
Noodles – There are American egg noodles and Chinese rice noodles but as far as I know there are no Italian noodles.
Grated cheese – Since cheese is so closely associated with pasta I’ll mention it here. Use Parmigiana, Loccatelli, Romano or whatever you like but don’t think you can put it on everything because it can overpower a delicate dish. If you really want cheese, eat a piece of cheese. Instead of the hard grating cheeses, try dry ricotta salada sometime or maybe a tablespoon of fresh ricotta in your dish before you put in pasta with tomato sauce. Instead of any grated cheese at all, try toasted breadcrumbs. And remember – never, never put cheese on seafood.
Everyone always said that my grandmother could cook weeds and make them taste good. Well, she really did cook weeds. This is true cucina povera – the land owners got the good produce and the poor got the rest.
Pasta with Dandelion Greens
Dandelion greens can be somewhat bitter. A sprinkle of grated parmigiana offsets the bitterness.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Trim and discard stem ends and cut greens into 2 inch pieces. Wash in a sink full of cold water to remove any sand. Place in boiling water for 10 minutes and drain thoroughly. Don’t discard the water.
Place pasta in the same water you used to boil the greens. Allow to boil for 8 to 10 minutes. In the meantime, heat the oil in a pan and add garlic, salt and red pepper. When the oil gets hot and the garlic starts to color add the greens and toss. When the pasta is almost done add to the pan and toss with the greens adding ½ cup of the pasta water. Serve with grated parmigiana.
Pasta with Kale and Plum Tomato Sauce
Kale is good for you and very popular lately but it used to be something that only goats ate. If you really want too eat it, make it like this and it won’t be too bad. (For some reason, October 7th is Kale Day. Go figure.)
In a large pan, sauté the onion, garlic, S&P and a little red pepper. Add the kale and tomatoes, tossing frequently. Add a little pasta water and cover so it steams. When the kale is wilted and the tomatoes soft, add the pinoles (pine nuts) and a little more pasta water. When the pasta is almost done add to pan and toss with sauce to finish cooking. Serve with grated cheese.
Pasta with Broccoli Rabe
It’s still too bitter for some but over the years broccoli rabe has moved up from the weed category. It’s become trendy and you can find it on the best restaurant’s menus but it wasn’t always that way.
Heat chopped garlic in oil. Add washed broccoli rabe (or arugula or other greens) that are still wet and sauté with the garlic and oil. Add S&P, cover and steam. When it wilts, toss with pasta. This recipe also works with other greens. If you’re using something with hard stems like broccoli or bok choy, boil it until tender before sautéing. A little cheese isn’t bad on this.
Although I call this ‘pasta’ with clam sauce. It’s traditionally made only with linguine or spaghetti.
Start by sautéing some garlic in oil, like the basic Aglio e Oliorecipe. Let it cool.
Steam 20-24 Little Neck clams in a 10 ozs. of water and when they open remove most of them from their shells but leave a few in their shells to decorate the serving dish. If the clams seem too large you can chop them.
Carefully pour the broth from the pot you steamed the clams into the pan with the garlic and oil. I say carefully because there’s sometimes a bit of sand at the bottom of the pot that can be avoided if you pour slowly. Now add the clams to the garlic & oil. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley. Simmer for a little bit and pour over 1 pound of linguini. Sprinkle with a little more chopped parsley and don’t even think about putting any cheese on it.
You can substitute cockles or mussels for the clams.
If you unfortunately happen to be someplace where you can’t get fresh shellfish you can use a can of clams (Doxie or Cento) and a bottle of clam broth (again, Doxie or Cento). (I don’t recommend it but If you must have red clam sauce just add a couple of ladles of simple marina sauce before serving.)
I’ll start with the simplest form, a basically 2 ingredient sauce. It’s very quick and easy to make – an inexpensive meal in a hurry.
½ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic (more if you like), thinly sliced
Salt, black pepper and red pepper to taste
1 lb. spaghetti
Boil salted water in a 3 quart pot. When the water boils add the pasta and cook until al dente. As the pasta cooks, heat the garlic in oil. Add S&P and red pepper. Add about 6 ozs. pasta water to the garlic & oil. Toss pasta in the sauce. That’s it – pretty simple! And it’s the base for lots of other sauces including clam sauce.
Any left-overs are good for a Spaghetti Aglio e Olio Omelet. Cut the leftover pasta in 2 – 3 inch pieces. Brown slightly in oil, add some scrambled eggs, fold and it’s done.
Although it’s traditionally made with spaghetti or maybe linguine, you can also try it with Japanese buckwheat noodles (obviously not traditional but very good – don’t tell Grandma).
You can add: chopped parsley for a little color and/or chopped walnuts before adding the pasta to the sauce. If you want you can add a can (about 12) anchovies and dissolve them in the hot oil before you add the garlic. Also try about 3 table spoons of rehydrated golden raisins or currants.
Calabrese Aglio e Olio
My mother’s father was Calabrese. Calabrese housewives who ran out of preserved tomatoes during the winter could always come up with some tomato paste. Start same as above but add about 2 or 3 tbls. of tomato paste to the garlic & oil. Fry it for about 5 minutes and then add a cup of pasta water. Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce. You can sprinkle with some toasted bread crumbswhen serving.
Basilicata Aglio e Olio
My father’s parents came from the town of Laurenzana in Basilicata which is where this recipe originated. When the garlic is frying add a heaping tablespoon ofpowered pepperoncini and 6 ozs. of pasta water. The sauce should be watery and pink in color. When the pasta is almost done, put it in the pan with the sauce to finish cooking. If you’ve put enough pepper the pasta should turn slightly pink. Very spicy! Sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs.
Traditionally, these dishes are not served with cheese.