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.