Scarpetta’s Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce and Garlic Basil Oil Recipe
adapted from Scott Conant and Scarpetta (Steamy Kitchen)
Chef Conant likes to use 20 ripe plum tomatoes (no canned). My adaptation includes canned tomatoes as well because I find it works better. Tomatoes used for canning are picked at the peak of ripeness, and many times the fresh tomatoes I find at the market are just so-so. Feel free to use all fresh, all canned or a combination. Don’t expect the usual sauce-heavy spaghetti. Conant’s recipe is light; the barely there sauce combined with the basil-garlic oil is so full of intense flavors, you don’t need to drown your pasta.
4 ripe organic tomatoes (preferably plum tomatoes)
One 12-ounce can of San Marzano or organic whole tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of crushed red chili pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ounce freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1/2 cup)
6 to 8 fresh basil leaves, well washed and dried, stacked and rolled into a cylinder and sliced thinly crosswise into a chiffonade
1 pound spaghetti, either high-quality dry or homemade
For the Basil-Garlic Oil:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6-8 whole cloves garlic
10 whole fresh basil leaves
Generous pinch crushed red chili pepper flakes
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have a large bowl of ice water nearby. Cut a small X on the bottom of each tomato. Ease the tomatoes into the pot and boil for about 15 seconds, then promptly move them to the waiting ice water. (Continue with the remaining tomatoes.) Pull off the skin with the tip of a paring knife. If the skin sticks, try a vegetable peeler using a gentle sawing motion. Cut the tomatoes in half and use your finger to flick out the seeds.
2. In a wide pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat until quite hot. Add the fresh and canned tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and season lightly with the salt and pepper. (I always start with a light hand with the salt and pepper because as the tomatoes reduce, the salt will become concentrated.) Let the tomatoes cook for a few minutes to soften. Then, using a potato masher, chop the tomatoes finely. Cook the tomatoes for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tomatoes are tender and the sauce has thickened. (You can make the sauce, which yields about 2-3 cups, ahead of time. Refrigerate it for up to two days or freeze it for longer storage.)
3. While the tomatoes are cooking, make the basil-garlic oil. Heat a small saucepan over low heat with 1/4 cup olive oil, garlic cloves, basil leaves and pepper flakes. Keep the heat on low to allow the ingredients to warm slowly and release their flavors. When the garlic is lightly browned, turn heat off and let cool for 10 minutes. The longer you let the oil sit, the more infused the oil. Strain the oil, discarding the solids.
4. To cook the spaghetti, bring a large pot of amply salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti until just shy of al dente and drain, reserve a little of the pasta cooking water.
5. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and cook over medium-high heat, gently tossing the pasta and the sauce together with a couple of wooden spoons and a lot of exaggerated movement (you can even shake the pan) until the pasta is just tender and the sauce, if any oil had separated from it, now looks cohesive. (If the sauce seems too thick, add a little pasta cooking liquid to adjust it.) Remove the pan from the heat and toss the butter, basil and cheese with the pasta in the same manner (the pasta should take on an orange hue). Drizzle with just a bit of the basil-garlic oil on each plate (you might not use all of it).