I don’t know if it was the summer heat melting my brain, or it was just one of those days when you fall into a ‘YouTube rabbit hole’, but I recently found myself spending a scorching hot Saturday night checking out videos of Italian grannies making insane amounts of different types of pasta followed by videos of Italian grannies making insane amounts of tomato sauce – an exciting way to spend a Saturday night, no?
Did I learn anything about making authentic Italian tomato sauce? Probably not. Surely it takes more than one evening of examining videos, such as tips and tricks that have been passed down through the generations and years of practice. On top of that, I am neither in possession of a huge supply of delicious San Marzano tomatoes nor the equipment I saw being used in most of these videos, such as 50-year-old stock pots, special terra-cotta bowls and big juicing machines. Nonetheless, after watching all these videos I was craving a fragrant and intensely flavoured tomato-y sauce made with juicy summer tomatoes, so I tried to get as close as possible to what I had seen in the videos and made this spaghetti (other long-shaped pasta can be used too) with freshly made tomato sauce, blistered and super-jammy pan-seared cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil, which I think is tasty enough if you can’t actually visit Italy or find yourself a nice Italian nonna.
While I usually believe you can never really have too many vegetables in a meal, for my recipe here I’ve chosen to stick to a small variety of tomatoes and a touch of fresh basil only: no onions in the sauce, no pieces of carrot and celery and definitely no meat. Some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano grated on top before serving is permitted, of course, but I don’t think it needs it and I just really wanted the tomatoes to shine – it’s called ‘spaghetti with tomato sauce’ after all. Sadly, this recipe does only work well when tomatoes are in season and super sweet and ripe, so should you not be able to find any fragrant and delicious seasonal tomatoes (of any kind), you might need a bit of help from a good-quality canned variety, a spoon or two of tomato paste, and/or some other flavourful veggies.
Pasta with Homemade Tomato Sauce and Jammy Cherry Tomatoes / Pasta al Pomodoro
- For tomato sauce:
- 1kg super-ripe tomatoes (san marzano or other plum are always good, but any ripe, sweet, medium to large tomato will do)
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- 2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed with the palm of your hand but kept whole
- Few sprigs of fresh basil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- For the rest of the dish:
- 350g dried pasta (spaghetti or linguine are best)
- 300g fresh cherry tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin, or other good quality olive oil + a bit more to drizzle
- couple of fresh basil leaves
MethodTo make the sauce:
- Bring enough water to a boil to cover the tomatoes at least half-way once you add them.
- Once the water is boiling, add the large tomatoes (not the 300g cherry tomatoes) and cover with a lid. Leave to simmer for 5 minutes.
- Drain the tomatoes and leave to cool until safe to touch.
- Once cool enough, peel the tomatoes, cut out the whitish core at the top and roughly chop them up.
- Return peeled and chopped tomatoes to a high-rimmed pot or saucepan over medium heat and add 1 teaspoon of sugar, lightly crushed whole garlic cloves, some salt (not too much) and a few sprigs of the basil leaves (but reserve some of the most beautiful leaves to use later). Leave to simmer whilst stirring occasionally for around 25 minutes until the tomatoes disintegrate and the sauce reduces to about half.
- Remove sauce from heat and remove the garlic cloves and the basil from the sauce. Allow to cool slightly.
- Blend tomatoes with an immersion blender until smooth. If you like, you can make the sauce even smoother by passing it from a wire mesh sieve or chinois to strain out the seeds and potential chunks.
- Season with more salt and pepper if necessary and keep hot if using immediately.
To make the rest of the dish:
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, season with a generous amount of salt and cook the pasta according to instructions on the package.
- In the meantime, heat olive oil in a skillet over high heat. Once the pan is very hot, add the cherry tomatoes with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and don’t touch them for a few minutes. You want the skin to blister and darken and some (or most) of the tomatoes to get jammy and wrinkled.
- Once the pasta is cooked al dente, transfer it with tongs to the pot/skillet with the tomato sauce you've made earlier (not the cherry tomatoes, yet). Stir to combine and allow to cook together for another minute. Add a bit of the pasta cooking liquid to thin the sauce if necessary.
- Divide pasta over plates and divide the blistered jammy cherry tomatoes over the top. Drizzle on some extra extra-virgin olive oil and a chiffonade of basil leaves (or simply tear them with your hands).