I’ve been quiet here lately. It’s because I’ve had a string of kitchen failures. I’ve been desperately trying to make some successful quinoa, my brownies were lame, I had a late lunch and didn’t want a proper dinner – it’s a string of excuses, and tonight I had to go back to an old standby. Tonight, I wanted something warm and comforting and easy. Something like…pasta…with just a simple tomato sauce. After all, tonight, it’s just for me, right?
Now, I know that this could be even “easier” if you stop to consider all the jarred pasta sauces out there. At first glance, my recipe may not look much better, as it uses canned whole tomatoes. But, these aren’t just any canned tomatoes: they’re San Marzano tomatoes.
San Marzano tomatoes are imported plum tomatoes from Naples, Italy. The name denotes both the location where they are grown and the varietal of the tomato. They’re a classic sauce tomato with a dense texture and bold flavor. They’re much sweeter than slicing tomatoes or even Romas. They also have fewer seed pockets, so a can of these beauties yields a luscious, thick sauce – nothing watery or runny. Hunt’s doesn’t hold a candle to these. Look for the colorful cans of imported Italian tomatoes at the market, then check to make sure that they hail from San Marzano. You’ll also see the European Union D.O.P. emblem; these tomatoes are as precious to their region as Champagne is to, well, Champagne.
When I make my simple pomodoro sauce, I buy whole, canned San Marzano tomatoes. While they’re cooking I bash them up with my wooden spoon to break them down a bit. The sauce retains a chunky texture, but is very fork-friendly. The little chunks pair perfectly with conchiglie (shell) pasta. The large pieces of the tomatoes settle into the recesses of the pasta, and the sauce clings to the ridges. They’re the perfect vehicle for showing off this simple, yet delicious, sauce.
Conchiglie al Pomodoro (Shell Pasta with Tomato Sauce)
- 1 C conchiglie pasta
- 1 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes.
- 3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 2 T extra virgin olive oil
- 2 T basil chiffonade, divided
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- a couple pinches of sugar (to taste as needed)
Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions. While it cooks, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the garlic, and saute until the garlic is soft but not browned – just a minute or two. Pour in the tomatoes, and break them up a bit with a wooden spoon. Add a tablespoon of the basil and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a steady simmer, stirring regularly and continuing to break up the tomatoes with your spoon. When the sauce is heated, taste it. If needed, added a pinch or two of sugar and adjust seasonings to your taste. Cover the sauce and simmer until the pasta is ready, stirring occasionally. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and place in a serving bowl. Ladle in enough sauce to dress the pasta liberally, and toss with the remaining basil leaves. Pour the remaining pasta sauce into a freezer bag; it will keep up to a month in the freezer, or a few days in the refrigerator. To reheat, thaw the sauce, heat until simmering, and toss with some fresh basil — all ready to enjoy for the next time.