Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce

Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce

During most of the year, when I want to make tomato sauce for pasta, I have to settle for canned tomatoes, usually Muir Glen, which I find are pretty tasty (especially the fire-roasted variety). In August though, I get to make tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes, which gives the sauce a vibrant flavor you just can't capture in a can.

My neighborhood farmers market, New Morning Farm at the Sheridan School, has a mouth-watering array of tomatoes this time of year: golden grape tomatoes that are sweet as candy, heirloom tomatoes in every color and the large red tomatoes I use for this recipe.

Quick cooked fresh tomato sauce
I boiled the sauce vigorously to quickly reduce and concentrate its flavors.

A couple notes on this recipe: it's designed to be something you could make on a weeknight, with a total cooking time under an hour. If you wanted to, you could certainly simmer the tomato sauce over a long afternoon rather than boil it to reduce the liquid faster. You'll develop more flavor that way, although these tomatoes are so flavorful that they manage to make a beautiful sauce even when cooked quickly.

Also, depending on what kind of tomatoes you use, you may not need to cook the sauce as long to reduce it. Roma or plum tomatoes, for example, have less water than the large red variety I used. And if you seed the tomatoes by squeezing out the seeds and the juice around them, you will also have less liquid to reduce, although I happen to think you lose some good flavor by doing that, so I generally don't juice and seed my tomatoes.

Cooking pasta in fresh tomato sauce
Stop boiling the noodles a few minutes shy of the recommended cooking time and finish cooking them in the sauce.

Finally, let's talk about the pasta. Those beautiful wide spirals are strozzapreti that I bought at Eataly. I tried something new with cooking the noodles that I've read is a good Italian technique: stop cooking the noodles a few minutes shy of the package direction for al dente (I stopped mine at the 11-minute mark instead of going to 14). Then, add the almost cooked noodles to the sauce and finish them as the sauce cooks for its final few minutes. It worked great. The noodles were perfectly al dente and picked up more of the flavor of the sauce.

Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 sweet onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 lb. ripe red tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 cup dry red wine (I used Cellar No. 8 California Red Wine Blend)
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 lb. dry pasta (I used strozzapreti)
Handful of fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons

1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and sauté another couple minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes and thyme, stirring to combine. Increase heat to medium-high to bring to boil. Add wine and nutmeg. Cook at medium-high until the mixture reduces by about half, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to simmer.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta 3 minutes less than package directions for al dente (the strozzapreti I used was supposed to cook for 14 minutes, but I stopped after 11). Drain pasta and add to tomato sauce. Stir to combine and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in about half of the basil ribbons.

3. Serve pasta in shallow bowls topped with more fresh basil and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese at the table.


  1. This was great! It made good leftovers too.

  2. This looks and sounds so good. Definitely will be making this week, Love anything with tomatoes. I don't have red wine. Can I omit it??

    1. I hope you like it. The wine adds a nice depth of flavor but you can certainly make it without. If you had a red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar on hand you could add a tablespoon of either or those.

  3. Thanks for this, my tomatoes are just starting to pop and I've been dying to sauce them up! I planted these beautiful half purple variety called indigo Rosen they should do nicely!

    1. I bet they're beautiful. You're lucky to have your own homegrown tomatoes. Let me know how it turns out.