Pasta in Easy Tomato Sauce
Romancing the Stove: “Cooking is like love; it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” - Harriet Van Horne
I have this friend, a self-professed feminist, I worked with at a specialty kitchen store many years ago who was (and most likely still is) quite an unapologetic cynic when it comes to Valentine’s Day. Weeks and weeks before February 14th would arrive, thematic merchandise would show up in droves in varying shades of pinks and reds and an epic case of the eye rolls for this lady would ensue as we unboxed and stocked it in the back room. She scoffed at the enamel fondue sets for two. She turned up her nose at the bags of conversational candies with “punny” sayings.
Holding up a heart-shaped baking mold to her cheek, she would sarcastically spew in a 1950’s kind of vibe, batting her eyelashes purposefully, “Here, darling. Because I love you SOOOOO much, I made this for you.” And then toss the pan aside and air-gag herself. This always made me laugh and I suppose in a certain way I agreed with her about Valentine’s. How it had become so overly commercialized. So sappy. So sophomoric, really. So…well, overdone.
And yet, the other day as I was discussing some recipe possibilities for this Hallmark holiday with Adam, I found myself throwing out a few lovey-dovey, lacy doilies of my own.
How about a roasted beet salad? Slice up the beets and cut them into hearts with a cookie cutter and call it Sweetheart’s Salad? Or maybe a Coeur à la Crème for dessert? (To which he replied, “What the hell is that?”) Or what about heart-shaped meringues filled with passion curd, I asked enthusiastically? Huh? Or…maybe heart-shaped ravioli with a brilliant red sauce? Whattaya think?
Let’s just say that none of those went over very well with The Photographer who is basically a card-carrying member of “I Hate Anything Too Cutesy” club.
And Valentine’s brings out his loathing in spades. This was his statement that he issued: “Cheryl, other than cookies and even that may be borderline to some degree in my opinion, anything heart-shaped is wrong. If you have to cut it into a heart to make it romantic, then it’s not romantic. The food has to be inherently romantic. Period.”
Well, that just made too much horse sense, y’all. So, I started thinking about foods that I wouldn’t have to “alter” to make them appropriately romantic for the upcoming holiday. There’s steak, of course. Champagne. That’s a given. Oysters, obviously. Asparagus. Yes, asparagus. Those are some sexy, seductive stalks, people. Chicken in a creamy, decadent sauce? Most definitely.
And pasta. Oh, yes. Probably the most romantic food out there, if you ask me. If you don’t agree that pasta is for lovers, at least argue both sides and conjure up the iconic memory of that scene in The Lady and the Tramp when the dogs are in the alley of Tony’s Restaurant eating spaghetti while be serenaded by the two Italian guys and they are both gnawing on a single strand and it gets shorter and shorter until they “kiss” and I swear to God, those cartoonists actually made that cocker spaniel blush. Kills me. And then! Then, Butch (the Tramp) noses over the last meatball on the plate to his lady so she can have it? Tell me that’s not romantic.
And then I flashed on the very first meal Adam made for me in those first few days of our new life together. It was pasta. With fresh tomato sauce. I remember leaning on the kitchen counter at his parents’ summer house, sipping wine, and being completely enraptured as I watched him chop and dice with great authority. He regaled me about his days in Rome, so eloquently offering vivid memories of his life as a fashion photographer in the Eternal City. He told me how they really eat and cook in the land of the boot. How surprised Americans would be to find that most Italians don’t make their pasta from scratch but keep boxes of Barilla in the cupboard.
I wanted to shout out, “Dude, if this is your idea of seduction, it’s totally working!!!” But I resisted. I just smiled and flirted and kept the thought to myself that watching him cook for me – and really knowing his way around the kitchen – was just about the sexiest thing I could imagine. Well, up to that point at least.
When dinner was ready, he slowly twisted strands of pasta around his tongs and carefully placed the tangled nest of noodles expertly on the plate. He even garnished the dish, which made me swoon (remember, this was way before Food Network was even a glimmer on the radar). At this point, I knew I was a goner. Yep, I was beyond smitten with this man and, at that moment, I wouldn’t have cared one fig if the pasta completely sucked. But it didn’t.
In fact, it was unbelievably delicious. Simple, fresh and absolutely the perfect first meal together. As we sat down to eat – candlelight and all – the phrase that kept going over and over in my mind was, “Isn’t this romantic?”
And it was. It truly was.
This sauce comes together quickly but tastes as if it glurped away all day on the stove. Use fresh tomatoes during their peak season – June through September – and use canned whole tomatoes the rest of the year.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 onion, peeled and diced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 pounds plum (Roma) tomatoes – peeled, seeded and diced OR 1 can (28-ounce) Italian peeled tomatoes with juices
- pinch sugar, optional
- one pound dried pasta, cooked according to the package directions
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese, to taste
- fresh chopped or torn basil
- In a sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add in the tomatoes (since they are whole, I pick them out and crush them into the pan with my hands or you could break them up with a wooden spoon) and season with some salt and pepper; add in the sugar, if using and bring the sauce to a bubble.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Toss in the pasta, cheese and chopped basil; serve.
Planning: Here are a few variations for the tomato sauce to stretch out the base recipe: For an Arrabbiata Sauce (meaning “angry), add in a glug of extra-virgin olive oil and red pepper flakes. An Amatriciana sauce features pancetta and red pepper flakes. A Puttanesca (referring to a, um, streetwalker) adds olives, anchovies and capers.
Product Purity: Italians don’t shy away from using canned tomatoes during the off-season. In winter, San Marzano tomatoes, available at larger supermarkets, are a fabulous choice for the sauce.
Presentation: This sauce works well with different shapes of pasta, like penne or spaghetti. i like to tear the basil by hand – it looks more “real.”
© 2013 Hutchstone, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Content and photography © 2013 Hutchstone, LLC. All rights reserved.