The fastest, easiest and (in my opinion) most delicious summer pasta sauce is raw, takes 5 minutes to prepare, and only calls for three main ingredients: ripe, juicy tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and lots of fresh herbs. Oh, and — ideally — imported Italian spaghetti.
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Onto that base you can add whatever other flavors and ingredients you love and have at hand: garlic, scallions, chilies, capers, olives … even edible flowers, if you have any in the garden. Think of it as a diced tomato salad. Then toss it with hot spaghetti.
This is not a carefully measured type of sauce. Feel free to make and mix it as you wish. Just plan to have at least one medium tomato (about the size of an orange) for each person. I like to gather different kinds of tomato, from tiny cherry tomatoes to dark and colorful heritage varieties. The star should be the kind of tomatoes that are plentiful in the summer at farmers markets and in the garden: bright red and full of juice. And flavor. That’s the key to making this dish memorable.
Prepare the sauce about half an hour before you want to cook the pasta. It benefits from sitting for a short time so the flavors can marry well, but will lose some of its zing if it waits too long.
Here are my ingredients for pasta sauce for 4 people:
A good assortment of tomatoes.
A generous handful of fresh basil leaves.
A few sprigs each of other fresh herbs (I love to use tarragon, cilantro and chives plus a few leaves of fresh lovage and thyme).
A couple of minced garlic cloves.
Salt and freshly ground peppers.
Extra virgin olive oil, as good as you can get it.
Capers, preferably stored in salt.
Sliced olives of your choice.
A piece of fresh chili pepper.
A handful of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Here’s how to make it:
Rinse all of your ingredients well, especially if they’ve just been picked. Use a large mixing or serving bowl so you can add the hot spaghetti to the sauce and then serve it immediately.
Dice the tomatoes and slide them into the bowl with all of their juices. Chop the herbs roughly and stir them into the tomatoes. Add the minced garlic, if you are using it. Season with salt and pepper, and toss with a few tablespoons of oil, just as you would a salad. Add whatever other ingredients you fancy: rinsed salted capers, sliced olives and minced fresh chilies (this sauce can be hot or not).
A few minutes before you want to cook the pasta, bring a large pan of salted water to a rolling boil. (Never cook pasta in small pans with too little water or it will get gummy.) The spaghetti cooks fast, so get everyone to the table in time. As the Italians say: Pasta waits for no one!
Tip the steaming hot, drained al dente pasta into the sauce and start mixing. Stir in the cheese and serve. Wait for the applause!
Top photo: Garden-fresh tomatoes and herbs make the perfect summer pasta sauce. Credit: Carla Capalbo