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Cook: The Best Pasta Al Pomodoro

It’s been a rough week.

Sunday night my 90 year old Granddaddy was taken to the hospital.  He stayed there until Tuesday afternoon when he came home to be where he’s most comfortable.  I got on a plane to Texas early Wednesday morning to spend the rest of the week with family and with him.  The time spent here has been indescribable and I will never forget these days with him.
When I got here on Wednesday, naturally my first question was, “What can I do?”
My mom replied, “Food.  You’re in charge of food.”
Food?  Perfect.  I can do that.
I made a menu like I do at home, and hit the grocery store.  So far I’ve made Creamy Baked Chicken Taquitos with refried beans and Tomatillo Dip.  I’m making Pulled Pork tonight and burgers and fries tomorrow.
Last night, however, I tried something new.  This pasta dish is something I’ve been wanting to try for a while after reading other food bloggers attempts and rave-reviews.  I bought the May issue of Bon Appetit magazine at Boston Logan Airport at 7:00 am Wednesday morning, and it’s been burning a hole in my brain since.  The magazine advertises it as the “simplest, silkiest sauce you’ve ever made.”  Um, OK!  I’m in.
Pasta al Pomodoro is spaghetti with tomato sauce.  But it sounds better in Italian.  It just does.
The result?  Every single strand of pasta was perfectly coated in tomato sauce.   I removed the pasta from the heat and added about 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons of cold, cubed butter and tossed to combine.  The cheese helped thicken the pasta and the butter is what makes this silky just like the cover promised.
We served this pasta with grilled Italian sausage and Caesar Salad with homemade dressing and croutons.  By the way, have you made that Caesar dressing?  If not, I want you to go to your kitchen and make it right this very second.  I’m serious.
This pasta sauce was everything Bon Appetit promised it would be.  It was simple.  It was silky.  And, although they didn’t advertise this, it was comforting.  It’s amazing how the littlest things can bring comfort in a stressful and sad situation.  Cooking for my family has given me a sense of control in a time when none of us has any.  So, we cook.  We do dishes.  We run errands and water the plants.  We do these little things because these little things are what we can do.  And for the things we can’t change?  Well, we talk and pray and laugh and cry.  Really, we stick together.
I think you should make this pasta for people you love, then give them a big hug because at the risk of sounding like a cheesy Hallmark card, it really is the little moments that matter.
Here’s the recipe:
Pasta al Pomodoro (adapted from Bon Appetit)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, minced as finely as possible
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
28 ounce can of whole San Marzano Tomatoes, pureed in a food processor or blender
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
3 large fresh basil leaves
1 lb spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
2 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes, then add garlic and cook for 5-7 more minutes.  Stir until onion is soft and garlic is fragrant.  Add red pepper flakes and cook for about 1 minute more.
Add pureed tomatoes and season with salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes on low heat.  Sauce should thicken and flavors should meld.  After 20 minutes, remove from heat and add basil sprigs and set aside.
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook until about 2 minutes before tender. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water and drain pasta.
Discard basil from sauce and heat skillet over high heat.  Stir in reserved pasta water and bring to boil.  Add drained pasta and cook, tossing with tongs until sauce coats pasta and pasta is al dente, about 2-3 minutes.
Remove pan from heat and add 2 tablespoons cubed cold butter and 1/2 cup grated cheese.  Toss until cheese and butter melts.
Serve in bowls with more cheese and chopped basil for garnish.

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