Finally, as I promised, here is the tomato sauce recipe from my time in Porto Ercole. You may remember that Roberto was the wonderful cook who was hired (by my friend Mita Corsini Bland) to prepare lunch for us each day while we were painting. As I raved in that post, the simplicity of his food coupled with the quality of the ingredients made every meal a treat for the taste buds. Once back in the States, I tried the recipe at home: very nice, but it did not touch his cooking. We all debated about the ingredients, the difference in pasta (although I used the same packaged brand as he), the difference in water . . . I think ultimately it boils down to the chef and the quality of the fresh ingredients. That said, it was quite tasty and I will certainly fix it this summer if and when my tomatoes ripen. We have had such weather in Connecticut! A cold June, then two horrible weeks of hot, hot temperatures and humidity, and now we are in drought mode.
When I made the sauce I used grape tomatoes and some larger vine-ripened medium sized ones from the store. I think they are the tastiest options available outside of the real local tomato season .
An Italian chef once explained to me there are two types of tomato sauces: the one you cook no longer than 15 minutes and the one that you cook for three hours. Anything in between would be too bitter and acidic. Roberto’s was the former; he literally cooked it about 15 minutes.
Like so many good cooks he measured nothing, so the following is from my notes as I watched him. I would say this serves 4 people. The Italians do not drown their pasta, but use sauce as a condimento, tossing to create the evenly-distributed light coating you can see in the photo above.
1. To peel the tomatoes: fill a large sauce pan with heavily-salted water and bring to a boil. Place a handful of slightly larger tomatoes in the boiling water; after 2 minutes dump the two boxes of grape or cherry tomatoes into water. In a couple of minutes more, when see the skin of the tomatoes start to crack, take the pan off the heat and remove the tomatoes with a strainer. After they are cool (you can plunge them briefly into an ice water bath to hasten this) remove the skin. Next, cut them all in half and squeeze to remove the seeds. Yes, I know it is a pain, but Roberto insists it must be done in order to have a sweet sauce (Sometime soon I will try peeling of the tomatoes and merely chopping them, throwing seeds and all into the pan.) Caution and confession: it is hard to get all of the seeds out of the small tomatoes because it removes so much good pulp, so I did leave a few seeds rather than decimate the tomato. Now that many of us are entering tomato season we can just peel, seed, and cut a mix of large tomatoes into pieces — much easier then seeding the small ones!
2. Heat olive oil in a frying pan. (Remember no measurements! I started with 1/4 cup).
3. When oil is hot but not smoking, add one clove of garlic, some red pepper flakes (1/4 tsp or to taste), two anchovy filets (this is important — they seem to put anchovy in about everything); toss in tomatoes and additional salt to taste and give it all a stir.
4. Cook for 15 minutes and then take off the heat.
5. At the same time you’re making the sauce, bring a pot of salted water to boil and add a pound of pasta. When the pasta is really al dente, drain (remember to reserve a half-cup of the pasta cooking water just in case you need to dilute the sauce or loosen the pasta for easier tossing).
6. Toss the pasta with the tomato sauce and serve with chopped parsley (or sometimes I use chopped basil) on top
7. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.
This is so simple and, other than seeding the tomatoes, it is not labor intensive. A summer bonus: it doesn’t heat up the kitchen!
Good luck and enjoy – cr