Tomatoes are everywhere and we can’t stop cooking with them. Chicago’s weird, shitty summer created the ideal environment for the fruit, generating a bumper crop of particularly kick-ass quality. We’ve been putting them in everything, mostly directly into our mouths, but we’re really infatuated with fresh summer tomato pastas.
Perfectly cooked pasta, made slippery with good olive oil, and loaded juicy tomatoes, aromatics, and our favorite cheeses are the perfect no-brainer dinner. They aren’t the rich, hearty, long-simmered sauces of fall; these simple dishes can be thrown together in about 15 minutes and are substantially satisfying without losing the delicacy of tomatoes. They stick to your ribs without making your head get sweaty.
We’ve preached on the importance of seasonal, local tomatoes before, so we’ll spare you another lecture there. Other than star produce, the backbone of these dishes are a correctly cooked noodle. Food Network morons have coached us well enough to know that you need to use plenty of water when cooking pasta, but few people talk about how effing important it is to use cold water and why salt is important.
Boiling cold water may take a couple extra minutes, but it is well worth the wait. Hot water, in most homes, has been sitting in the hot water heater for several hours– maybe even days. It can take on funky metallic flavor that passes on to the pasta. Cold water from the tap (or, even better, filtered!) will make your pasta taste better, letting the pasta’s wheaty sweetness come through with hints of nutty malt.
No matter how much of what type of water you use, one thing you cannot skimp when cooking pasta is salt. First– when you’re cooking food that is already bland, like pasta which is not known for its particularly robust flavor profile, omitting salt makes it taste like wallpaper paste. Second– adding salt to water increases the temperature at which it boils by almost 40 °F/~3°C. That changes how quickly it penetrates and cooks the pasta, giving it a lighter, springier, all around better texture.
Harold McGee, who is our Oprah, says to use two teaspoon of salt and two quarts of water for every pound of pasta. We have to with roll a little bit more flexibility than that in our cramped Chicago kitchens. We suggest filling your biggest pot of water as full as you can safely, and put in enough salt to make it taste like the ocean.
- 1 pound of Spaghetti or Thin Spaghetti
- 4 tablespoons of Olive Oil
- 3 Cloves Garlic, sliced impossibly thin
- 1 pint Cherry Tomatoes
- 4-6 oz Ciliegine Fresh Mozzarella
- A bunch of Fresh Basil
- Black Pepper
- Serves: 4-6
- In a small skillet over low heat, add Olive Oil and your finely sliced Garlic. Cook until the garlic is translucent and just about to turn golden on the edges, remove from the heat and set aside. Doing this first, and giving the Garlic Oil time to cool, will bring a headier, richer garlic flavor to your pasta.
- Fill your largest pot with cold water, salt liberally. Bring the water to a boil and cook the Spaghetti to al dente while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Thoroughly wash the Cherry Tomatoes and slice them in half. Drain the Ciliegine and cut them in half as well. We like the basil to be left whole so we can get giant fragrant mouthfuls, but you can slice it into thin ribbons if you’re into that. Either way, wash it well and rub it together in your palms to bruise the leaves and help coax out even more bright flavor.
- Drain the pasta, but not too well. You’ll want to leave a little bit of that pasta water on the noodles. It turns the garlic oil into a rich sauce that evenly coats each noodle. Toss the Spaghetti with the Tomatoes, Basil, and Ciliegine. Add the Garlic Oil, with garlic slices and everything. Season with Black Pepper to taste; if you used enough salt in your pasta water, you won’t need any in the finished dish.
- This pasta is delicious hot, but it doesn’t suck at room temperature and is really, really good cold. If you do the whole brown bag lunch thing, it’s a great candidate for a giant batch on Sunday night to feed you for a week. We like to serve it with a little side of balsamic vinegar for dipping and drizzling to bring out the sweetness of the Tomatoes and give it a Caprese feel.