Recipe: Pasta al Pomodoro

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This is as far as I am concerned the dish I would have on a desert island. I make sure I have the ingredients for this in my house at all times; it means I can have a decent meal at any time. The dish is made with the most simple tomato sauce, and once you can handle this the variations are many: Adding a couple of chili peppers and parsley instead of basil or a dollop of creamy ricotta to finish the sauce are just two ideas.

Even though I always use canned Italian tomatoes, the acidity varies a lot. If they taste too acid I add a teaspoon of sugar to round out the flavor. "Secrets of the mother," said the first Italian chef who taught me that with a wink. But taste first, since you don't always need it. I like a small amount of butter at the end for the same reason: It smoothes out the flavor, but there are many who frown on the addition of butter. Make up your own mind!

Serves 4 to 6

    • 500 grams dried pasta, any long or short shape, preferably artisanal, such as Rustichella d'Abruzzo
    • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
    • 1.5 cups canned San Marzano tomatoes, pureed
    • salt
    • 1 teaspoon plain sugar (optional)
    • 5 to 6 fresh basil leaves, sliced thin
    • 1 tablespoon butter (optional)
    • ¼ cup grated Grana Padano cheese

Put a pot of generously salted water to boil. In a heavy-bottomed pot gently heat the olive oil and add the garlic. I like to cook it briskly until just beginning to color, about three minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir to incorporate the garlic and oil. Add a pinch of salt. I like to cook the tomato sauce over medium high heat for about 10 minutes until it starts to cook down and thicken.

Taste it at this point and see if it needs sugar. I would start with half a teaspoon; it really doesn't take much and you don't want the sauce to be sweet. You just want to correct it if it's too acidic. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package (I always start tasting a few minutes before it's supposed to be done just to make sure). When done, drain the pasta and place in a warm bowl. Just before you drain the pasta, stir the basil into the pasta sauce. Toss the pasta with the tomato sauce and when well coated add the butter if using. Toss until the butter is melted, then toss with the grated cheese. Serve and eat immediately.

To read Sara's article about crafting a wine list for her new restaurant, Porsena, click here.

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Sara Jenkins is based in New York City, where she has developed a reputation as a fine rustic Italian chef. She runs Porchetta, an Italian sandwich shop, and Porsena, a casual restaurant focusing on classic Italian pastas. More

Sara Jenkins is based in New York City, where she has developed a reputation as a fine rustic Italian chef. As Mario Batali put it, "She is one of the few chefs in America who understands Italy and how Italians eat." Sara is also the author, with Mindy Fox, of Olives and Oranges: Recipes and Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus, and Beyond, released by Houghton Mifflin in September 2008.

The daughter of a foreign correspondent and a food writer, Sara grew up all over the Mediterranean, eating her way through several cultures and learning to cook what appealed to her. She began her professional career in the kitchen with Todd English at Figs in Boston, then went on to work as a chef in Florence and the Tuscan countryside, as well as on the Caribbean island of Nevis, before returning to the U.S.

In New York City, Jenkins became chef at I Coppi, earning that restaurant two stars from The New York Times. After similar turns at Il Buco, Patio Dining, and 50 Carmine, she began work on her own cookbook.

In September 2008 she and her cousin Matthew opened Porchetta, a storefront in the East Village focusing on porchetta, a highly seasoned roast pork common in Italy as street food or festival food sold out of a truck as a sandwich. Porchetta has been wildly successful in New York City, both with gourmands and ordinary folk alike. Porchetta was awarded the top spot in Time Out New York's "100 best things we ate in 2008" and also received a four-star review from New York magazine.

In 2010, Sara Jenkins will open Porsena, a simple and casual restaurant down the street from Porchetta focusing on classic Italian pastas.
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