Pasta al Pomodoro

Cover recipe- Bon Appetit, Pasta al Pomodoro: May 2011

Bon Appetit magazine is sharing  “The Italy Issue” for May, 2011.  Pizza!  Pasta!  Gelato!  Ultimate Recipes from Italy’s Heartland.  Easy Stove-Top Espresso.  Cook Like a Real Italian.  Who doesn’t love these captions?  The cover shares Pasta al Pomodoro, “the simplest, silkiest sauce you’ll ever make.”  They say that the secret is finishing off the dish with starchy reserved pasta water and butter.

Within the magazine, the cover recipe is part of a feature called, “Pasta Perfect,” a 10-point guide to the simplest, most luxurious sauces imaginable.  Here’s the rundown:
1.  Forget the pot- use a pan (what the pros do to cook almost-done pasta and sauce together- until there’s pomodoro clinging to every bite of pasta.
2.  Build the foundation- Make a classic pan sauce with olive oil, garlic, vegetables and pasta water.
3.  You’re not using nearly enough salt:  Add a small handful of kosher salt to a pot of boiling water, then drop in the pasta.  The noodles absorb water, so you’re actually seasoning the interior of an otherwise bland pasta.
4.  Don’t dump the pasta water! Starchy, salty pasta water is the secret ingredient in most sauces.
5.  Trust the tongs: use them to pick up a noodle to test for doneness, transferring noodles from pot to pan, to toss noodles in sauce, and to plate the pasta.
6.  Work the saute pan: Undercook the pasta by a couple of minutes, then finish cooking it in a saute pan with the sauce’s flavorful liquid.
7.  Everything’s better with butter: The secret to rich and silky sauces is extra fat.  Finish your sauce with olive oil, butter or both.
8.  Cheese is not just a garnish: Enrich the sauce with cheese (mixed in and melted), skip pre-grated cheese, grate it finely and think beyond Parmesan.
9.  It should look as good as it tastes: a well designed pasta bowl makes for a beautiful presentation- a broad bowl w/ high sides keeps the pasta warm, and a white bowl makes the colors in the sauce pop.
10.  Practice makes perfect pasta- step by step cheat sheet:  salt pasta water, saute vegetables for sauce, pour (reserved water onto vegetables), transfer pasta to pan with sauce, add more pasta water to sauce, stir in butter, sprinkle in fresh herbs, toss and plate.

Read my notes below to see what I thought of the cover recipe…

Print Print Recipe
Save Save Recipe

Pasta al Pomodoro

Yield: Serves 4

Prep Time: 35 min

Cook Time: 45 min

Ingredients:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 minced medium onion
4 minced garlic cloves
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28 ounce) can peeled tomatoes, pureed in a food processor
kosher salt
3 large fresh basil sprigs
table salt
12 ounces bucatini or spaghetti
2 Tablespoons cubed unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino

Directions:

1.  Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat.  Add onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 12 minutes.  Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 to 4 minutes.  Add red pepper flakes; cook for 1 minute more.  Increase heat to medium, add pureed tomatoes, and season lightly with kosher salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly and the flavors meld, about 20 minutes.  Remove pan from heat, stir in 3 large fresh basil sprigs, and set aside.
2.  Meanwhile, bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a 5-quart pot.  Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender.  Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking water.
3.  Discard basil and heat skillet over high heat.  Stir in reserved pasta water to loosen sauce; bring to a boil.  Add pasta and cook, stirring, until sauce coats pasta and pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes.  Remove pan from heat; add butter and Parmesan; toss until cheese melts.  Transfer to warm bowls; serve with more cheese, if desired.

Tips:

*Minced means "minced."  I thought I minced the onion well enough, but if you really want a smooth sauce as they're saying you get with this recipe then you need to really chop the onion into very, very small pieces.
*When you puree your tomatoes, give them enough time to get really pureed... otherwise you'll have chunks.  I thought I pureed mine, but you can see some small chunks in my photo.  In the BA photo, you can see a smoother sauce.
*I love the idea of adding basil sprigs to the simmering sauce and then removing them.  The flavor comes through nicely without adding chopped basil to the finished dish.
*Don't forget to reserve 1/2 cup pasta water when you drain your pasta!

Source:  Bon Appetit, May 2011

The results:

From the outset, this recipe looked boring to me… just a plain tomato sauce on pasta- not very exciting! Turns out that this recipe wasn’t boring at all.  In fact, our family LOVED this dish.  The sauce… so simple— tossed with the pasta is just wonderful.  I think it was the combination of butter + Parmesan that gave it a flavorful, velvety-smooth texture that you don’t normally have with a marinara sauce.

Did this recipe deserve the cover spotlight?

Definitely!  Loved the luxurious, velvety red sauce on plain pasta.  It’s the kind of rustic dish that one would hope to have if they visited Italy.  Perfect cover for “The Italy Issue.”

Lori is the founder of RecipeGirl.com. She's a professional recipe developer and food writer, and she's the author of The Recipe Girl Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: April 2013). Beyond food, Lori enjoys traveling, being outdoors, running, and maybe even singing a little karaoke. The mountains near Lake Tahoe are home for Lori and her husband of 18 years. They have an 12 year-old son who blogs at RecipeBoy.com.

11 Responses to “Pasta al Pomodoro”

  1. 1

    Jenny Flake — May 4, 2011 @ 8:54 am

    Love pasta and this one looks great!! Glad it stood up to the test! :)

  2. 2

    Cookin' Canuck — May 4, 2011 @ 10:06 am

    My reaction was the same when I saw the cover – boring. However, I also know that sometimes the simplest recipes are the best. You’ve inspired me to try this, Lori.

  3. 3

    Amanda — May 4, 2011 @ 11:02 am

    LOVE all these pasta tips, thanks for sharing them here, Lori! Bookmarking this :)

  4. 4

    Maria — May 4, 2011 @ 11:05 am

    Great pasta post! Can’t wait to try it!

  5. 5

    Tracey — May 4, 2011 @ 6:26 pm

    I’ve been wanting to try this one since my issue of BA arrived. Glad to hear it exceeded expectations!

  6. 6

    Tracy — May 5, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

    I haven’t tried this yet but it sounds delicious!

  7. 7

    mary (sisters running the kitchen) — May 5, 2011 @ 8:41 pm

    i am so glad that you featured this! i have this magazine and have yet to try out this recipe. looks so good though. sometimes the most simple dishes are the best.

  8. 8

    Mrs. L — May 6, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

    While it sounds like the dish is one to make, I still have a little trouble with it being on the cover. Covers to me are ideas I must get in the kitchen ‘right now’ to make, they are there to make me pick up the magazine to buy (I subscribe by the way). If it wasn’t for several bloggers like you making it and saying it was good, I’d probably pass it right by!

  9. 9

    Erin R — May 8, 2011 @ 8:28 am

    I made this dish for my fiance’s and my dinner last night. It was FABULOUS! Knowing that neither my fiance’s nor my knife cuts on our garlic and onion would ever be close to tiny enough for them to blend in with the texture of the pureed tomato, after we’d added the red pepper flakes and let it simmer for a smidge, we put the oil, garlic, onion portion in the food processor so it would puree too.
    Then, we just put that back in the pan with the tomato and it was smooth and wonderful.
    The sauce was waaaay better than any sauces we buy at the store, and since we just had to buy the can of tomatoes, it was super cheap too ($1.50).
    I truly feel that this is a restaurant-quality dinner.
    (also, we made this with linguini noodles, since that’s what we had, and I felt they held the sauce really well)

    I’m not sure if the photos capture the vibrant orange-red of the sauce, but this is totally a cover quality recipe.

  10. 10

    Nick — May 17, 2011 @ 9:14 am

    The dish looks delish! Reading through the 10 point guide, 2 of the points stand out to me. #3 You’re not using nearly enough salt and #4 Don’t dump the pasta water. Those are 2 things I have not been doing with my pasta and I really think they’ll make a big difference. I am going to try them today when I make spaghetti with clam sauce.

  11. 11

    Sue — June 18, 2011 @ 2:09 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this!!! I’ve made it three times now and I simply love it. Mine doesn’t turn out quite as smooth as it should, because chopping onions kills me so I tend to leave them a little chunkier than they should be for this particular recipe, but this is now my favorite pasta sauce.

    And while I’m not vegetarian, I absolutely love that I can cook something so delicious and satisfying that has no meat in it!!!!

    LOVE this blog!

Leave a Comment