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 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.”