Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The best Spaghetti al Pomodoro

This is my all-time favourite pasta recipe. I've added some variations to the original recipe that I learned to make at the first restaurant I worked in, Toronto's Ristorante La Fenice, but it's essentially the same. This recipe is particular to the region and the the town of Spigno Satunia which is located about 70 miles south of Rome, where the owner of La Fenice, Luigi Orgera, came from. The Orgera family maintains a working farm there, growing olives for the olive oil used exclusively at La Fenice. Their olive oil is a treat, and although it not available for purchase, don't let that stop you from finding and using other wonderful, readily available extra virgin olive oils.

During my time working in restaurants in Italy, I always had to prove myself on two counts. The first was that a woman could work as a chef in a restaurant and secondly (and of greater importance) was that as a non-Italian, I understood and could cook Italian food just as well as Italians. Everyone in the kitchen was required to prepare staff meals by turn, so when my turn came the first dish I would make is this spaghetti al pomodori. It always won me respect. Give it a try, it's easy and you will love it too!

Spaghetti al Pomodoro
Spaghetti with Tomatoes

Ingredients

1-12 oz can Italian plum tomatoes
2-3 cloves garlic crushed + 10 more sliced very thinly
1 bunch fresh basil
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil & little more for garnish
1 tsp sea salt for the tomatoes + a generous amount for the pasta water
25 grams dried spaghetti per person (I prefer Barilla or DeCecco)
to taste, Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano

Method

1.   Place tomatoes in a small pot with the 2-3 garlic cloves, ¾ of the olive oil, 3-4 sprigs of basil (don’t chop the basil, include the stems also) and sea salt. If you prefer, chop the garlic or use a rasp.
2.   Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium and continue to simmer until tomatoes are soft and the liquid has reduced slightly. Approximately 1 hour.
3.   Remove the sprigs of basil and process with a hand blender. Alternatively you can pass the tomatoes through a food mill to remove any seeds or just crush with them for a more rustic sauce.
4.   Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
5.   Slice garlic cloves thinly and chop the basil into a chiffonade
6.   Heat a sauté pan on medium high heat; add the remaining extra virgin olive oil and the sliced garlic. Sauté garlic until golden, remove and toss with a little sea salt. Reserve for plating or use as a condiment.
7.   Add the desired amount of basic tomato sauce to the sauté pan with the garlic oil.
8.   Place the pasta in the boiling water.
9.   Add small amounts of the pasta cooking liquid to the sauce until you have the desired consistency. The sauce should not be too thick
10.  When pasta is still very al dente, transfer it to the sauté pan with the tomato sauce, add the fresh basil chiffonade and cook until done. About 2-3 minutes. This step allows the pasta to absorb some of the sauce.
11.  To plate, use a large double pronged fork that will enable you to twirl the pasta around it. Then slide the pasta off the fork into a warmed pasta dish. Spoon some of the remaining sauce on top of the pasta and top with grated parmigiano and toasted garlic.
12.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

TIP:
When the Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano are down to the rinds, keep them and add to the first step in making the sauce next time. Remember to remove!

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