Friday, August 6, 2010

Sardinian-Style Raw Tomato Sauce with Pasta

It is appropriate that this, the finest fresh tomato dish in my repertoire, comes from Marcella Hazan, one of the most respected Italian cooks of all time. The discovery of this dish in one of her cookbooks was a sublime moment. Little did I realize at the time that this recipe would for years enrich many a summer evening meal with the sweet, bursting, just-picked-ripe taste of tomatoes and a restrained touch of basil, garlic and Parmesan.

The key to this dish is the tomatoes. They must be perfect. As well, one must refrain from "Americanizing" it; the temptation is to load it with pesto, more olives, more garlic ... but this is a true Italian dish whose tastes need to be experienced intentionally, slowly. It has deep character to be unfolded and discovered, like watching a Merchant-Ivory film, rather than the blatant in-your-face obviousness of a James Cameron film.

But I digress. Do pick up some of the wonderful fresh tomatoes at our local farmers' markets and try this dish.

Tonight, I discovered I only had rigatoni pasta on hand, and it worked fine.

Here's a funny interview conducted with Marcella as she tastes Olive Garden's "Tuscan" fare.
Adapted from Marcella Cucina by Marcella Hazan

The original recipe called for parsley, not basil, and did not call for crushed red pepper. Tonight I forgot to add the olive oil entirely, and we didn't miss it at all. If you're watching calories, just leave it out!

1-1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes
10 Kalamata olives
3 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
1/2 cup Parmesan or other aged hard cheese, such as Asiago, plus some for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (this will create a noticeable heat)
1 teaspoon salt
A few grinds of black pepper

2 tablespoons fresh basil, sliced

1 pound dried pasta such as fusilli, rotini, farfelle, or penne

Wash and stem cherry tomatoes, and cut in half, or in four wedges if they are large. Put them in a large mixing bowl.

Slice olives into quarters, and add to the tomato mixture along with the olive oil, cheese, garlic, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper.

Stir the tomato mixture well and let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and preferably 2 hours.

When ready to serve, cook pasta. Drain pasta and put it into the mixing bowl with the tomato mixture and stir sauce and pasta together.

Stir in the basil. Sprinkle the pasta mixture with a little more cheese, and serve.

Serves six.

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