Capellini, tomatoes, garlic

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This recipe came as a request last weekend from an old friend with impeccable taste. 

"Can you tell me how to make just plain pasta with chopped tomatoes and garlic?" 

And I had to put some thought into it before following through. The thing about simple food is that it has to be just right. Aside from fresh chopped herbs and olive oil, we're talking about three ingredients.

Balance and quality quickly become the front runners and figureheads of this recipe. You want just enough tomato and garlic to not overpower the pasta - and it's important that you're using high quality ingredients to achieve.

High quality doesn't mean expensive though. It means buying smart. Hands-down, any day of the week, fresh pasta is always tastes better than dried pasta (it matters less if you're making a baked pasta dish or soup).  Most grocery stores sell fresh pasta in the refrigerated section, but I'd also encourage you to check out a local Italian market or pasta purveyor. Less than a pound of angel hair pasta, as described below, isn't going to run you much dough. 

You'll also notice I suggest using canned tomatoes. As summer fades, so does the quality of fresh tomatoes. Canned San Marzano tomatoes will be sweeter and more full-flavored than the waterlogged plum tomatoes you can pick up at the grocery store. Canned vegetables, as well as frozen, are most often the best replacement when you're trying to cook with something out of season.

This recipe serves 4 people with a solid side salad, or 2 really hungry people. 

What you need

12 oz fresh angel hair (capellini) pasta

1 14 oz can whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes or, if in season, 5 ripe plum tomatoes

1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic

2 sprigs fresh thyme

5 large, fresh basil leaves

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp salt, plus more for salting the pasta water

Water, for boiling pasta

How to do it

In a large stock pot, boil water. 

While the water comes to a boil, chop tomatoes roughly into about 1/2 inch chunks, and set aside.

Next, mince the garlic, and set aside. 

Remove the leaves from the thyme leaves, and set aside. Then, finely chop the basil and set aside, wrapping the basil in a damp paper towel to keep it from browning. 

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat for about 30 seconds.  

Add garlic and allow to cook for about 30 seconds, just softening it, then add the tomatoes and salt. 

Cook the tomatoes until all of the water has evaporated, stirring occasionally, about 5-6 minutes. Remove the sauté pan from heat, and set aside. 

By now, the water should be boiling.  Add salt to the water – you want it to taste like the ocean. 

Drop the angel hair pasta into the water and cook it according to the instructions given to you, or until al dente. Strain the pasta and add to the  sauté pan.

Toss the angel hair in the tomatoes and garlic with tongs, then sprinkle the chopped herbs over the top.  

Serve immediately. 

Store in an airtight container and reheat in the microwave for best results.