Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Herbs

I have found a way to prolong summer. Here in September, when the heat is finally breaking and our schedules are already getting overbooked for the year, I am wistful about the end of summer. The sounds of football are too loud, and with them come the inevitable changing of the color of the leaves, plans for Halloween costumes (oh wait, I'm actually excited about that part), and the waning of the summer harvests. But like I said, I can make summer last longer now.

The tomato season is still going relatively strong around here at the farmer's markets, and the thing is, fresh tomatoes and basil actually harness the flavor of summer. It is a splendid thing, really, and even now, when the novelty of fresh tomatoes is wearing thin, most notably for those who have been canning and freezing tomatoes until their kitchens were covered in seeds and juice, the taste of summer remains a welcome thing indeed.

I spent the better part of July chasing the perfect recipe for fresh tomatoes and pasta, and nearly drove The Carnivore crazy with practically imperceptible variations on the dish. It seemed that I never received more than one pound at a time of fresh tomatoes in our CSA box each week, not enough to do very much with, after all, and besides, sometimes I just can't let a project go until it has been conquered. That, of course, was precisely how I felt about this recipe quest.

If I found myself with green tomatoes, I fried them (be still my beating heart) and if I picked up two pounds of red tomatoes at the farmer's market on Saturday mornings, then I made salsa. Clearly I was running low on creativity, though I prefer to view such inertia as centering on my great love for those two recipes. During the week though, when we would come in hot and tired from afternoons splashing around at the pool, and The Carnivore would arrive home exhausted from working in 90-degree heat, time was short and our appetites were more in line with simple, light dinners than anything else.

So I worked diligently, if slightly neurotically, at finding the best way to serve fresh tomatoes and pasta, and I swear, it is harder than it looks. We started with noodles tossed with chopped tomatoes, basil and olive oil, but it wasn't quite complex enough. Later variations included minced garlic (of course) and sauteed onions, and at least one recipe involved pureeing the tomatoes with the olive oil to make a more traditional looking sauce. Nothing quite worked. And, fresh tomatoes should never be pureed, I found; a lesson I would rather save others from having to learn the hard way.

Towards the end of July, while flipping idly through the August issue of Food & Wine early one morning before my odd little time-suckers woke up, I stumbled across yet another very similar recipe. This one, though, called for a minced small chili pepper (a forehead-smacking moment, if ever there was one) that brought to mind one of my other favorite pasta recipes, which also has a minced hot pepper that isn't so much tasted as it is sensed, if you know what I mean. It is a lesson I often forget, that the tiniest amount of heat, whether from a fresh pepper or even a pinch of dried crushed red pepper flakes, can enhance the other flavors of a dish in much the same way a squeeze of lemon juice completes and balances many recipes.

Balance is not my strong suit. You should see me trying to walk in a straight line without bumping into something. Or, for that matter, trying to juggle homeschooling, housekeeping, bookkeeping, and creative pursuits.

This Food & Wine recipe turned out to be a true blessing, and also inspired me to let the chopped tomatoes lounge around in the olive oil with garlic for an hour or so, letting the flavors fully meld. I altered the recipe slightly to fit the ingredients I had on hand (another sign of the perfect summer recipe: that it uses what is seasonal along with what can always be found in the pantry) and spent time that afternoon making a batch of fresh pasta to go with the sauce. I have finally gotten relatively quick at rolling out pasta dough, and what could be better than the toothsome texture of fresh pasta along with the light, bright, picked-that-day freshness of a simple tomato sauce, right?

I can think of no better description for this sauce than it tastes exactly like summer. And since summer is quickly coming to an end, I will make this dish again and again until the last of this season's tomatoes disappear from the market.


PASTA WITH FRESH TOMATOES AND HERBS (serves 4, adapted from Food & Wine)
  • 1 pound tomatoes, cored and finely chopped
  • 1 Tbs chopped basil
  • 1 Tbs chopped parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsps kosher salt
  • 1 small red or green chili pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound fettucine or linquine
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
  1. In a large bowl, toss the tomatoes with the basil, parsley, garlic, salt, chili pepper and olive oil. Allow to sit for 30 minutes or an hour to give the flavors time to meld.
  2. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente; drain.
  3. Add the cooked, drained pasta to the bowl along with the cheese and toss well.
  4. Serve immediately, topped with additional grated cheese.


Mama JJ said...

Thank you for doing all the research on this combo. I've often (albeit briefly) pondered this fresh tomato and pasta thing and then just shrugged it off. I will no longer be shrugging...

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