This recipe has a number of steps and requires some patience. Like any good ragú, this sauce gets most of its flavor and personality from a long, slow cook, at least an hour if you can swing it. Do not be deterred. The sauce will pay it forward in spades with deep layers of flavor. It’s perfectly suitable for a quiet Sunday afternoon amidst a mountain of laundry waiting to be folded and a pile of e-mails waiting for responses.
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 ounce dried mushrooms, preferably porcini, soaked in 1 cup boiling water
- 2 pounds cremini or baby bella mushrooms, rinsed, 1 pound quartered, ½ pound minced in the Cuisinart
- 1 large or 2 small shallots, minced (you can use a food processor for the shallots, carrots and celery if you prefer)
- 1 large carrot, minced
- 2 stalks celery, minced
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 14-ounce can tomatoes
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 Parmesan rinds
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- Bouquet garni of 2 sprigs rosemary, 4 sprigs thyme and 2 bay leaves
Using a food processor or Cuisinart, pulse the shallots, carrot, and celery to fine pieces. Set aside. Add ½ pound of rinsed mushrooms and soaked porcinis and pulse to fine pieces. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium-size rondeau over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add half the quartered mushrooms. Let the mushrooms sear for several minutes before jostling them gently and adding a big pinch of salt and a couple grinds of black pepper. Stir gently to evenly sear, adjusting the heat as needed so the bottom of the pan doesn’t scorch. Once the mushrooms are almost evenly seared, add a tablespoon of butter and stir to evenly coat. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the same pot and repeat with the rest of the quartered mushrooms.
Once all the quartered mushrooms are seared, add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and sear the minced mushrooms. Sear until evenly browned, then scoop out of the pan and set aside with the seared quartered mushrooms.
Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the over medium-low heat along with the vegetables. Sweat the vegetables until softened, about 10 minutes, scraping up the mushroom fond with a wooden spoon. After 3 or 4 minutes, season the vegetables with salt and pepper.
Turn the heat to medium and add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze any lingering bits of fond. Add the tomato paste and cook 1-2 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and mix well. Add mushroom tea and enough water so that the vegetables are nearly entirely submerged in liquid.
Simmer over medium heat until the liquid is reduced by half, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the milk, bouquet garni, and Parmesan rinds. Reduce again by half until the sauce is nicely thickened.
Once the ragu is the right consistency, finish by stirring in one tablespoon of butter.
This ragu freezes beautifully. If you are freezing it, thaw it in the fridge overnight before you need to use it, then reheat slowly and mount in another pad of butter before serving.
Here is the ratio I usually start with. For fresh pasta made in the northern style, ideally, you’d use 00 flour, which is ground finer than A.P. and renders a smoother, silkier texture. If you have 00 flour, by all means use it. But the dough will turn out just fine if you use A.P.
There are many different types of fresh pasta recipes. In the south, pasta is primarily made with water and a hard wheat flour, such as semolina made from durum wheat. You can also add other agents to your dough like pureed spinach or squid ink, to impart different flavors and colors.
That being said, this is a solid base recipe to start with.
- 2 cups A.P. flour
- 2 egg yolks + 2 eggs
Pour the flour onto a clean surface. Use a wood surface if you have one — it is easier to make and shape the pasta dough on wood. Make a well in the center of the flour. Pour in the eggs. Using your pointer and middle fingers, start slowly mixing the eggs and incorporating them into flour by gradually pulling bits of flour into the egg. Go slowly so you don’t break the wall of flour that keeps the eggs from spilling out. Keep incorporating wet into dry, eventually using a bench scraper to fold the outer edges of flour into the wet mass. By now, you should have a shaggy mass of dough. Start kneading by hand by pushing the heel of your hand down and forward, then folding the dough in half toward you, turning 90 degrees, and repeating. It should look like: Push, pull/fold, turn. Push, pull/fold, turn.
Knead the dough until you get a smooth, stiff mass, about 8-10 minutes. Cover with plastic and let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes before using.
Cut the dough into four pieces. Feed one piece through the pasta rollers at the widest setting. Fold the dough in thirds like a book. Turn the dough 90 degrees and feed it through again. This is a secondary process of kneading. Do this several more times until the dough feels silken and even.
At this point, slowly start narrowing the width on the pasta rollers until you reach your desired thickness. Each pasta machine has different numbers that correspond to different thicknesses. If making a filled pasta like ravioli or tortelli, you’ll need to roll the pasta out to nearly translucent since you’ll be doubling up the dough. I normally roll my sheets for cut noodles and lasagna sheets to #6 on my Kitchen Aide pasta roller.
From here, you can fill the sheets for a filled pasta such as ravioli, or you could start shaping your favorite pasta. I especially love cappellacci dei briganti. Agnolotti dal plin is a fun-filled pasta shape.
This is one of those recipes that anyone can tackle. It comes from The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, the doyenne of Italian cooking. The ingredient is short (and probably all stuff you have in the pantry). The process is simple and streamlined. Best of all, it yields a sauce whose flavor is robust in its generosity.
In the introduction to this recipe excerpted in Genius Recipes, Kristen Miglore shares this quote from Marcella: Simple doesn’t mean easy … I can describe simple cooking thus: Cooking that is stripped all the way down to those procedures and those ingredients indispensable in enunciating the sincere flavor intentions of a dish.”
- 2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled, or canned tomatoes
- 5T unsalted butter
- 1 onion, halved
- kosher salt
Put the tomatoes in a medium saucepan with the butter, onion, and salt. Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring periodically, folding the fat back into the tomato once it starts to separate. Mash the tomatoes with the back of your spoon to encourage them to disassemble and merge into the sauce.
To finish the sauce, you can leave it textured and slightly chunky or pass through a food mill for a smoother consistency. Marcella suggests tossing out the onion before serving, but I quite like milling the whole thing so bits of onion comingle with the tomato.
Serve with pasta and loads of parm or use as a braising liquid for your favorite meatball recipe.
Here’s what to cook when you don’t know what to cook. It’s easy and relatively versatile. You can make roasted tomato sauce in the winter months from canned tomatoes, and once summer comes you can lighten it with this simple fresh tomato sauce that takes all of 40 minutes to make.
People ask me all the time: What’s your favorite thing to cook? I invariably say anything with vegetables. But I fell in love with pasta al pomodoro when I was cooking in Rome, and I doubt I will ever tire of it. There is something so heartbreakingly beautiful about a dish like this, humble yet unapologetic in its bareness. Tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil and parmigiano. It goes without saying that these five ingredients should be the best that you can afford. It makes all the difference.
When you don’t know what to cook, cook something simply and without fuss. One of my favorite chefs says: The dish is complete when there’s nothing left to take away. Each ingredient must bring something to the table, and don’t tire your diners by tossing in needless add-ons. Simplicity always shines when done with care.
Pasta al pomodoro with fresh tomato sauce
Serves 1 hungry cook (with extra sauce to freeze or use elsewhere)
- 2 pounds tomatoes, halved (use scraps from slicing tomatoes if you have them)
- 5 garlic cloves, sliced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 250 grams spaghetti (Rustichella di Abruzzo is one of my favorite brands, and they carry it at Mariano’s!)
- Fresh basil
- 2 heaping handfuls of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Heat an 8-quart pot of water to boil for pasta.
In a medium saucepan, heat the garlic in the olive oil over moderate heat. Let it cook gently – a little color is fine but you don’t want the garlic to brown. As you see it begin to turn translucent and soften, turn the heat up to medium-high. Once the garlic begins to dance in the oil, add the tomatoes. You should immediately hear a sizzling sound as the tomatoes fry in the oil. Let them cook undisturbed for 30 seconds before stirring.
Turn the heat to medium and let the tomatoes cook down and begin to thicken. Stir intermittently to prevent the sauce from scorching. It usually cooks for 40-50 minutes. Once the tomatoes have fully disassembled and amalgamated with the olive oil, it’s finished. Take it off the heat and blend it using a food mill (to maintain some structure and body in the sauce). Alternatively, if you don’t have a food mill, you could use a blender, but the sauce will turn an orange-ish color.
Once the pasta water is boiling, salt it generously and drop the pasta in. Undercook it by 2 minutes so it can finish cooking in the tomato sauce.
Drain the pasta, saving some of the cooking liquid. Heat ½ cup of the tomato sauce in a sauté pan. Transfer the pasta to the sauté pan and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring and adding a little pasta water to achieve a slightly loose, saucy consistency (the pasta will continue absorbing some of the sauce as it finishes cooking).
Once the pasta is cooked to al dente, toss the pasta vigorously as you shower in grated Parmesan and a handful of basil leaves. If it starts to clump together, add a little more tomato sauce and pasta water.
Serve with extra Parmesan sprinkled on top.
This recipe will make an ample amount of sauce, but it freezes beautifully. I also like to eat this sauce with polenta and a softly fried egg or make an Italian-style shakshuka.
It feels a bit early for tomatoes. In the Midwest we normally start seeing vine-ripened tomatoes in late August, sun-kissed, cherubic and plump. But well-tended greenhouses make access to delicious tomatoes a reality much earlier in the summer. I happened upon a few really good ones last week and jumped at the chance to eat them sliced raw with some coarse sea salt and olive oil just like we used to do in Rome.
They were so flavorful it took my breath away: Sweet, acidic, firm yet easily yielding to the side of a fork. It left me with an oddly unsettling nostalgia for my childhood. My mother is a skilled cook and has always understood the art of restraint in the kitchen. During the summer, she adorned our kitchen table with heirloom tomatoes lined up like soldiers on a thin wooden plank. Dinner during the hottest parts of the year usually involved tomatoes in some unadulterated form. Two of her favorites are BLTs and tomatoes vinaigrette, a strikingly simple amalgamation of raw chopped garlic and balsamic vinegar poured over warm pasta and tossed with chopped tomatoes and their juices. I remember that pasta tasting like summer.
- 3 very ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped (save the juices)
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
- 1 1/2 pounds rotini (any pasta shape with ridges or curls will do just fine)
- Good olive oil to drizzle
- Shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese
- A handful of basil leaves
Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water.
While the pasta is cooking, roughly chop the tomatoes. Be sure to save the juices.
Using a sharp paring knife, mince the garlic by hand then soak it in the balsamic vinegar for a few minutes.
Drain the pasta. Transfer to a bowl and add the tomatoes with their juices. Drizzle the balsamic and garlic over the pasta as well as some good olive oil. Don’t be stingy with the oil. Toss by hand or use a large spoon to stir up the mixture to emulsify the tomato juices with the oil and the vinegar.
Garnish with some Parmesan shavings and torn basil leaves.