classic pasta al pomodoro

Pasta al Pomodoro is a simple, light spaghetti wrapped in an olive-oil saturated tomato sauce. It's a simple, satisfying meal that's perfect

Today’s post is part of Phaidon’s celebration of ten years of the Silver Spoon cookbook, the quintessential Italian cookbook beloved by chefs all over the world. Below is my story of my “family” pasta al pomodoro.

I lived in London fourteen years ago, when I was 22. I moved there a week after 9/11, and it was a weird time to be living overseas. In the U.S., we were (rightfully) panicked about terrorism and mourning our national tragedy. In London, I felt worlds away from home, and I missed being a part of the national unity that emerged from the ashes of this terrible event. It didn’t help that I was enrolled in an international studies graduate program in London. Every day, it seemed like I heard other students criticize American foreign policy. I don’t do well with confrontation, so instead, I’d just feel awkward and weird about it.

Luckily for me, I was also making friends from all around the world. I shared a flat with a married Finnish couple, a Dutch-Indonesian guy and an Indian woman. The married couple kept to themselves, but my other flatmates were warm and friendly. Because our flat was too tiny to even have a living room, we congregated in the kitchen in the evenings. From Kenneth I learned the beauty of satay and mayonnaise on everything. Dipa taught me to make simple daal curry. I, in turn, taught them how to make ground beef chili and that Haagen Daas was not a German, but American, product. We weren’t alone in our global exchange. My apartment building was brimming with international students, and soon I was participating in a weekly rotation of international potlucks hosted by friends from various parts of the world. Even though I sorely missed being home, I had discovered a global community literally right outside of my bedroom door. It was like riding the “It’s a Small World” ride from Disney World on loop.

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It wasn’t until I stumbled into a group of Italian students that my taste buds (and appetite) truly went into overdrive. I’d never met a group of people with more rigid rules about what to cook and how and when to cook it. Tomatoes were nearly always canned, because, as my friend from Turin whispered conspiratorially to me one night, “England never has good tomatoes.” He said it so dramatically, as if an entire country were afflicted with an incurable disease. In my wholesome American naivete, I once suggested slicing grilled chicken breast on top of pasta and was nearly beheaded by a flying wooden spoon from Francesca, my gal pal from Florence. My friend from Sicily didn’t speak to me for a week after I cut pasta with a knife and fork. To this day, I can still hear him yelling at me. “YOU NEVER CUT THE PASTA!”

Still, the Italians were always the hosts. I could come back soaking wet from running through the streets of London after class, without a single food item in my refrigerator, and the Italians would take me in. There was always vino, so much vino. My umbrella would sit by the radiator, drying to a crisp, as I listened to them tell raucous stories into the night. Time and again, they showed me that the best, most comforting meals could be had with just a few simple ingredients. From them, I learned that a really good pasta dish could start with just a can of plum tomatoes, a smashed clove of garlic, some olive oil and a pinch of salt.

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I didn’t know it then, but my Italian friends were teaching me the basics of all good food, and I learned to make pasta al pomodoro from their tiny student kitchens. It’s not fancy pasta, but everyone seems to have their own family’s version. My friend from Turin insisted on adding around a tablespoon of sugar to his simmering sauce, saying that it took away some of the bite from the acidity in the tomatoes. My friend in Sicily always used whole garlic cloves, never minced. Depending on the day or the mood, red wine might be an addition in the sauce, or it might not. Sometimes it also depended on our budgets, which were stretched to the bare minimum as students in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

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To this day, pasta al pomodoro is still one of my favorite comfort meals. On a cold day when I don’t feel like cooking, I know I can pull together the simplest of meals with just a few staple ingredients from my pantry. When the Silver Spoon cookbook debuted in English ten years ago, I rushed out immediately to buy it. I still make recipes from that cookbook, with the lessons I learned from my Italian friends all those many years ago stirring through my head as I work through the printed versions. I know now that cutting the pasta and adding chicken to it is unacceptable, but I also know things like how to make a light-as-air zabaglione custard and a parchment-wrapped whole fish for the ages. The Silver Spoon embodies the time I spent in London, away from family and friends, in a new kind of urban, international family. Through their food and their company, I learned more about the world in a year than I had up to that point in my life, and those friends hold a special place in my heart.

My recipe for pasta al pomodoro below incorporates a few extra ingredients from the Silver Spoon’s version, a free copy of which you can download here. I like to think of it as adding dashes of my time in London — sugar for my Italian friends, and a good, healthy dash of wine (for all the wine I drank on their dime).

I mean, after all the meals I bummed off them, it’s the least I can do.

Enter to win a full Silver Spoon library, plus a $500 shopping spree on Eataly.com! Details here.

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pasta al pomodoro

Time30 mins
Servings4 -5
This easy tomato sauce pasta dish is a must-try. It’s comforting and simple, and great for a weeknight.

Ingredients

  • 12 plum tomatoes (or about 5-6 lbs very ripe tomatoes)
  • 8 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
  • 4 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 2 parsley sprigs
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 16 oz long or short pasta (such as spaghetti, fettucine, or fusilli)
  • 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves (torn)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. In a separate kettle, bring a kettle of water to boil over high heat.
  • Wash the tomatoes and put them in a large stockpot. Pour boil water over the tomatoes and let them soak for about 10-15 seconds. Peel the tomatoes, seed and dice.
  • When the large pot of water comes to a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook according to the package directions.
  • Put the diced tomatoes in a medium saucepan with high sides. Add the olive oil, garlic, parsley, salt, red wine and sugar. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
  • Increase heat to high and cook for another 5-7 minutes until the tomatoes are broken down and the sauce is thickened. Stir constantly to make sure the sauce doesn’t scald.
  • Drain the pasta and let cool slightly. Do not rinse the pasta. Add the tomato sauce to the pasta and toss. Add the basil, salt and pepper and toss again. Serve immediately.
Pasta al pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce) is a simple, rustic meal that is ready in less than 30 minutes. With a simple side salad, this is a great, filling weeknight meal

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About me

I’m Ann, a mom / wife / lawyer / certified culinary enthusiast. I share recipes, travel guides and home life tips while living overseas. Currently based in São Paulo, Brazil.

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