A classic, and also perhaps one of the most prevalently abused dishes in the world, is the Pasta Al Pomodoro. It is the basic representative of Italian cuisine – rustic, unpretentious, and down to earth. A mixture of a few elegant ingredients that, when properly combined, should produce beautiful pasta tangled up in a vibrant, thick sauce with sparks of green basil. It should have a mellow but robust balance of sweet, sour and salty, coupled with a lingering aftertaste that leaves you craving for more.
Cooking the pasta
Pasta, the often understated sidekick of the sauce. Ideally, eat your Pomodoro with spaghetti or linguini, as it collaborates perfectly with viscid sauces like this one, but feel free to use penne or whatever you have at hand. It should be cooked in boiling water with some coarse sea salt, until al dente. Please don’t butcher the pasta by leaving it in the water for a few minutes longer. Read the package instructions, if it says 8 minutes, start checking at 5. Remember, it needs to be a tad undercooked, as it will still cook when you put it in the pan with the sauce; there is nothing worse than overdone pasta. You can have the hero of all sauces but if the pasta is mushy, the duo does nothing for the palette.
For the soffritto (or mirepoix if you’re posh)
Onions, carrots and celery enjoy a particularly harmonious relationship, known as soffritto. Ideally, two parts onion, two parts carrots and one part celery; just do it by eye, freely and passionately like the Italians. Don’t underestimate the soffritto; the effect it has on the sauce is nothing short of miraculous. Chop finely and fry them together in a pan. Let the ingredients dance around at low heat for a couple of minutes until everything softens, releasing its most potent flavours.
Finishing the sauce
Add the canned tomatoes, turn up the heat and wait for it to boil. Then turn the heat down and let it simmer gently for at least a good half hour or for as long as you can bear. When you’re ready, season, add the pasta and a bit of the pasta water, as it too contributes to the overall flavor of the sauce. Toss it for a good minute or two to let the symphony of flavours seep into the pasta. Scatter with some torn basil leaves and finally, a generous grating of Parmesan. Drizzle with some excellent extra virgin olive oil to perk it up before serving.
Serve with… a sharp bottle of red and good, rustic Italian bread to mop up all the leftover goodness.
Suitable for… a romantic dinner or a simple meal for one.