There must be hundreds of pasta and tomato recipes floating around because it’s such an obvious and simple dish, but as ever with simple Italian recipes very few of them written by non-Italians seem to understand the concept of what makes this dish the sort of comfort food that I could happily eat every day for a week, and there are not many dishes I could honestly say that about.
This is a fresh tomato recipe and the key is the partial caramelization of the tomatoes by cutting them in half and putting them cut side down in a generously-oiled pan and leaving them alone for a while without stirring or turning them over. Equally important to this dish is having sufficient oil in the pan so the tomatoes don’t burn or change color by close contact with the pan surface - the idea is that they cook gently in the oil rather than fry.
Start to finish this is a 20 minute dish that is perfect for out of season tomatoes that are not perhaps ideal for eating raw and may have slightly tougher skins. This is one of our staple winter dishes when we’re in a hurry and haven’t planned ahead, but you can’t use canned tomatoes and get the same result. If that’s all you’ve got then perhaps make all’Amatriciana instead.
With fresh summer tomatoes this dish is even better of course and after Elena made it a few years ago for English and American tourists at a holiday villa in Todi she got emails the next week from many of them asking her for the exact recipe because they loved it so much. It's a simple dish but there's something about it that everyone just loves, including us. That version was a little on the arrabbiata side as I recall so if that's your preference then just add a few more chili pepper flakes.
Ingredients for 2 people:
280 grams ( 10 oz ) spaghetti
25-30 cherry or datterini tomatoes, not too small.
2 cloves of garlic left whole in camicia
One or two chili peppers left whole or use hot pepper flakes instead
About 1 cup of passata
plenty of extra virgin Italian olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Generously oil a large flat bottomed frying pan and add the garlic and chili peppers.
2. Cut all the tomatoes in half and add them cut-side down in the oil on a single level only, cooking them at a medium high heat.
3. Put the spaghetti into a pan of well salted water on a rolling boil. It will take no more than 10 minutes for al dente which is when the pasta should be added to the tomatoes.
4. After about 6 minutes of cooking the tomatoes should be starting to get soft enough to press down into the pan with a fork without offering much resistance.
5. Squash them all in turn when ready and then stir in the passata, add salt and pepper and after a couple of minutes reduce the heat to a simmer while the pasta is still cooking.
6. Remove the garlic and add the spaghetti to the pan with the tomatoes and if you have any fresh basil to hand, add some torn pieces now together with a generous slug of top quality Italian olive oil to bring out the full flavor of the dish.