Have you ever come across a recipe that has been a revelation? One that has changed the way you cook and the type of meals you make there after? For me, it’s this uber simple fresh tomato sauce with basil.
When I used to work as a Food Buyer for Waitrose, I was sent on a weeklong cooking trip to the South of Italy. The first dish we learnt to cook was the classic Neapolitan fresh tomato sauce for pasta. I remember thinking, really? I know how to do this, but no, I really didn’t know how to make the best sauce ever with just 4 ingredients.
It’s all about the right ingredients. The tomatoes they use are particular to Campania; Piennolo is a small pear shaped midi plum tomato grown in the mineral rich Vesuvian soil. I have noticed that many cook books say that cherry tomatoes are used, they are not, Piennolo is definitely closer to the plum style tomato. Having said all that, you can’t buy Piennolo tomatoes here, the Campanians keep them for their tomato sauces and hardly any are exported. The next best variety to use is baby plum as it is almost as sweet and ‘fleshy’ to make this luscious tomato sauce.
I use this sauce as a base for many other pasta sauces; mussels, prawns, pancetta, buffalo mozzarella, fennel sausages with ricotta, I could go on….
Miraculous ingredients: Santini baby plum tomatoes (M&S sells this variety), fresh basil, good quality spaghetti (Giuseppe Cocco is excellent), Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan)
Spaghetti with a fresh baby plum tomato and basil sauce
450g Santini baby plum tomatoes cut in half
¼ teaspoon sugar (only use sugar when making this recipe during the winter as tomatoes do not have enough natural sugar to balance their acidity at this time of year)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
20g fresh basil, chopped
350g spaghetti (Giuseppe Cocco is the best)
3-4 tablespoons of pasta water
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano to serve
Place a large pan that can hold a good 3 litres of water onto a high heat. When the water starts to boil add a teaspoon of salt and all the spaghetti.
Put a dry medium size frying pan on a low heat to warm up as you get the ingredients ready. Add all the extra virgin olive oil to the warm pan and fry the chopped garlic for about 20 seconds. Do not let it brown and release any bitterness. Add the halved baby plum tomatoes and stir. Increase the heat to high to start breaking down the tomatoes and release their juices. Stir and press down on the tomatoes with a wooden spatula to hurry up the cooking.
The tomato sauce is ready when all the tomatoes have broken down and released a lot of tomato juice to create a sauce, about 7 minutes. Turn the heat off; add all the chopped basil and stir.
When the spaghetti is cooked al dente (soft on the outside but slightly hard in the middle), lift the spaghetti out of its water with a pasta spoon and put it into the pan with the sauce. Add 3-4 tablespoons of pasta water to help create a sauce (the starch in the pasta water thickens the sauce). Serve immediately with lots of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
Preparation time 10 minutes, cooking 10 minutes, serves 4
My recipe featured in Mother & Baby magazine