I admit it. When I was younger, our conception of an Italian pasta dish was one which swam in a thick red sauce—preferably Prego or Ragu. It turned out that both names actually do come from Italian: “prego” being a fairly generic word that could mean anything from “yes, what do you need?” to “just go right ahead,” and “ragù” being a long-simmered meat sauce. Yet, at least in our own household, we didn’t use the jarred sauces called Prego or Ragu in a very Italian fashion.
As an adult, I discovered that Italians prefer to sauce their pasta very lightly. Of course, as an adult, I also learned that Italians do not cook their pasta to the point where it resembles porridge… Perhaps lightly sauced al dente pasta is an acquired taste, but I have indeed acquired that taste and prefer my pasta dishes that way. It isn’t just me though. Now, most reputable cookbooks and culinary magazines stress the importance of cooking—as well as dieting—in a more authentic Mediterranean way.
Though he is a British celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver has developed many recipes which feature Italian flavors, ingredients, or cooking styles. In Jamie’s Food Revolution, he has a recipe for “Classic Tomato Spaghetti” which I found useful. However, despite the saucier image pictured, I think the recipe might be a bit dry for even the more adult and sophisticated palates. I even wonder whether there was a typo in the recipe since it calls from a full pound of dried spaghetti and only one 14-ounce can of tomatoes. In any case, I did end up modifying the recipe (less pasta, more sauce). Even with the modification, the pasta is very much in the vein of authentic pasta dishes in the sense that—as you can see from the picture above—it’s a very slightly sauced, and very light, pasta.
Fresh Tomato Basil Pasta
3 cloves of garlic
1 fresh red chile
1 bunch fresh basil
¾ pound dried spaghetti
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cups of drained canned diced tomatoes (or 2 medium tomatoes peeled, seeded, chopped)
½ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper
Put a large pot of water to come to a boil (and look at Step 2). When the water is at boiling, salt the water and the add the spaghetti to cook until done but still having a slight “bite” to the pasta (that is, al dente). Depending on what pasta you use, this could take about 10-12 minutes. Go with taste and texture, not time.
While the water is heating up, slice the garlic, finely mince the chile, and lay aside basil leaves. Chop basil stalks. (By the way, I find Jamie Oliver tends to use red chiles in many of his recipes and that he likes to add chopped cilantro, parsley, and basil stalks during the cooking process. These little additions or tricks are quite flavorful, I find.)
In a heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat, pour in about ¼ cup of the olive oil and then the garlic, chile, and the basil stalks. Immediately reduce the heat to medium to let the garlic cook a bit and then add the tomatoes along with most of the basil leaves—withholding a few leaves for final garnish. Once everything gets incorporated, raise the heat to medium high. After only a few minutes of cooking (which makes this pasta dish quite fresh), the sauce is ready for salt and pepper for seasoning.
Drain your cooked pasta (which should be done by now), put the pasta in the pan with the tomato sauce, and then stir to incorporate. Taste and season again. Serve in bowls with the grated cheese and the remaining fresh basil leaves.