The internet might be loaded with a ga-jillion recipes, but finding the great ones can still be a little bit of a needle in a haystack. My favorite way to find new recipes is to ask a random person what their cult favorites are. Bonus points if they claim to hate cooking, because these are the people who are only going to be excited for dishes that work with airtight reliability that are unquestionably worth your time. I have found so many gems this way; Marion Burros’s Purple Plum Torte (which, if you have not made yet, shut this browser tab and get to it, please), Cook Country’s Chicken and Dumplings, Jeremiah Tower’s Raspberry Brown Sugar Gratin, this crazy simple beef braise and Ina Garten’s Lemon Cake. (If you ask me about mine, I might also up this curious tuna salad from the New York Times Magazine, this zucchini and almond saute). In more recent memory, it’s from asking around that I learned a lot people have a very deep fondness for a raw tomato sauce for a 2006 issue of the late Gourmet Magazine.
I, however, had my doubts. I am very particular about pasta; I want not too much sauce and I want it to be slurped up by very thirsty al dente pasta with a splash of reserved cooking water in the last minute before you eat it, so that they become as one. I couldn’t imagine raw tomato sauce being anything but slippery, wet and probably nothing you’d see in Italy, right?
But then two things happened. First, I realized that having a new baby rather severely limits that time you might spend blanching, peeling and milling fresh tomatoes for your yearly batch of your favorite sauce, no matter how good the tomatoes have been this summer. And then, two weeks ago, one of my prime authorities on All Things Italian, or at least Roman and sometimes Sicilian, Rachel Roddy, whom I am impatiently tapping my foot for the US release of her book, shared a photo of a raw tomato sauce on pasta that was clearly eaten somewhere in Italy. The suggested topping of grated ricotta salata was an a-ha moment for me, and exactly what I realized the recipe — which suggests serving the sauce with Parmesan — might be missing. The sharp and almost pickled creaminess of ricotta salata seemed the perfect contrast to this bowl of crudo.
And so on Sunday, over the course of 6-plus stopped-and-started-and-stopped-again hours because that’s about how long it takes me to do the quickest of anything these days, we made it happen and whether or not you’re juggling a newborn, a bigger kid, a glut of tomatoes, or maybe that summer-specific cooking ennui when you want to eat all of the delicious produce but not actually have to stand at a stove for more than 5 minutes to do so, we quickly declared this the ultimate low-effort dinner. It is tomatoes in nearly their purest form, naturally sweet and faintly tangy, then garlic-kissed and tangled with fresh basil and the wispiest strands into everything I want in a late-August meal. Oh, and the leftovers aren’t too bad either which means tonight’s dinner is already sorted too. That’s what I call a cooking victory lap.
One year ago: Cold Noodles with Miso, Lime and Ginger, Apricot Pistachio Squares and Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake
Two years ago: Strawberry Lime and Black Pepper Popsicles, Kale Salad with Pecorino and Walnuts and Magnificent Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes
Three years ago: My Favorite Brownies and Mediterranean Baked Feta with Tomatoes
Four years ago: Hazelnut Plum Crumb Tart and Zucchini Fritters
Five years ago: Zucchini and Almond Pasta Salad, Raspberry Limeade Slushies and Sweet Corn Pancakes
Six years ago: Plum Kuchen, Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad and Lighter, Airy Poundcake
Seven years ago: Blueberry Crumb Bars and Napa Cabbage Salad with the Best Buttermilk Dressing
Eight years ago: Zucchini Bread and Quick Zucchini Saute
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Oven-Braised Beef with Tomatoes and Garlic
1.5 Years Ago: Fennel and Blood Orange Salad and Chocolate Hazelnut Linzers
2.5 Years Ago: Fried Egg Sandwich with Bacon and Blue Cheese
3.5 Years Ago: Blood Orange Margaritas
Angel Hair Pasta with Raw Tomato Sauce
Adapted a little from Gourmet
In the original recipe, many commenters found that they wanted more garlic; I had very new garlic from the market and found one clove to be plenty booming with flavor, but definitely adjust to your taste. Many found that they liked the sauce more the longer it marinated. I’d planned to let it just sit the 10 suggested minutes, but then real life happened and it sat an hour. It was wonderful. I realized I had no lemon (of course) after returning from the store and used red wine vinegar instead. It works just fine. Lastly, the original recipe calls for coring tomatoes and I realized that I wasn’t sure whether this mean to just remove the stem and any tough parts it attaches to inside the tomato or to do as this video shows. I did a mix of both, coring fully, then squeezing the seeds and extra juices from the core before chopping them too. I’d recommend this so the sauce isn’t excessively watery, and especially if you, like me, find tomato seeds a little bitter and bothersome in sauces.
3 pounds fresh, best-quality tomatoes (results are uneven with less fresh ones)
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste (I used 2 teaspoons total Diamond kosher salt)
1 teaspoon sugar (optional, I found this unnecessary)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound dried capellini or angel-hair spaghetti
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
To serve: grated ricotta salata (my choice) or Parmigiano-Reggiano and a drizzle of your favorite olive oil
Halve the first pound of tomatoes crosswise, then rub the cut sides against the large holes of a box grater set in a large bowl, discarding the skin. Core (see note up top) and chop the last two pounds of tomatoes and add to the grated tomato bowl. Add garlic, lemon juice or vinegar, salt, sugar (if using) and pepper and let marinate at room temperature until ready to use, at least 10 minutes but also up to 2 hours if you’re planning ahead. After it has steeped for a while, taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Cook pasta in salted boiling water as package time recommends. Drain then toss with fresh sauce and basil. Serve lukewarm (as it is now) or at room temperature with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly grated cheese on top.