Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In The Raw

Despite all my bellyaching about summer and how long it took to get here (not to mention how quickly it ended), I've had an embarrassment of riches. Thanks to my CSA I've run out of things I could possibly do with fresh tomatoes, but not before making what has quickly become my favorite sauce. Setting aside the undeniable facts about how easy and absurdly fast it is to prepare, let me tell you a little bit about how this no-cook sauce tastes. You know that feeling of biting into the first perfect, crisp fall apple? An apple so delicious, it makes all other apples before it seem like a cruel, fruity farce? Well this recipe will do something similar for the tomato. I'm not a big tomato fan. In fact, I usually remove them from dishes altogether if I can, because much like bad apples, a bad tomato is just awful. Mealy, mushy and flavorless, bad tomatoes (and apples, for that matter), are disappointing and not worth eating, especially in light of this recent article. But a good tomato (or, well, an apple) has a flavor so complex and fresh that when you taste it, you forget you've ever had it before.

This sauce can and should only be done with good, seasonal tomatoes, especially if you don't live on the West Coast. Because it relies on the flavor that only comes from good tomatoes as it's main ingredient, it simply wouldn't work without juicy, ripe tomatoes in the peak of their season. I craved it all winter long but waited until summer (and so can you!), a feat which is entirely worth it because this sauce will spoil you for all other tomatoes. Others will pale in comparison, appearing to be less flavorful and fresh to these which are shredded into a bowl using a cheese grater, combined with a few big glugs of extra virgin olive oil and a good squeeze of lemon juice. There's little else involved save for a clove or two of crushed garlic, a light julienne of basil and a pinch of both salt and pepper. Now that I've extolled the virtues of it's flavor and preparation, did I mention that it was done before the pasta? Capellini of all things, which cooks with lightening speed, did not stand a chance against this speediest of sauces. By the time the water came to a boil I was more than halfway done with the sauce prep. And sorry to burst any pasta bubbles but capellini (also known as angel hair) is really the ideal pasta shape for this sauce, with spaghetti and linguine coming in at a close second and third. Because the sauce is so thin it wouldn't stick to a thicker or larger noodle and would just pool in the bottom of your bowl. So a longer, thinner noodle would almost act like a sponge, absorbing the sauce and leaving you with a perfectly slurp-able noodle.

As for plating, I'd toss the pasta with half of the sauce and them pour the remaining sauce over each individual bowl of pasta. You can also mix in chopped tomatoes if you're a fan of having chunky bits in your pasta, but I like just topping each individual bowl with a little bit of chopped tomato (yellow ones in my case, just for color) and a few extra strands of basil. Drizzle some good extra virgin olive oil over the whole thing and give it one last turn of the pepper mill to finish off the dish. This would go really, really well with a light white wine like a Spanish AlbariƱo, Txakoli or an
Argentinian Torrontes. Even a Riesling that's not too sweet (Kung Fu Girl retails for about $12 and tastes great) would be excellent since you'll be getting plenty of acidity from the tomatoes. On that note, one important thing to remember is the sweetness versus acidity of your tomatoes. Mine were pretty sweet and only needed a bit of sugar to cut their acidity, but yours may need more or less, so do taste as you add ingredients to make sure you're balancing all of the flavors. Here's my final recipe:

Capellini With Raw Tomato Sauce

2 garlic cloves

2-3 lbs ripe tomatoes

juice of half a lemon

1 tsp sea salt plus more for seasoning

1 Tbsp sugar

freshly cracked black pepper

1 lb dried capellini

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus more for garnish)

1. Mince the garlic and top it with a teaspoon of salt on your cutting board. Mash it into a paste using the side of your knife (the salt acts as an abrasive, breaking down the garlic).

2. Halve tomatoes crosswise and rub the cut sides of the tomatoes against the large holes of a box grater (reserve one half of a tomato to chop as a garnish). Grate tomatoes into a large bowl, reserving pulp. Toss the pulp with the garlic paste, lemon juice, half of the basil, salt, sugar and black pepper. Reserve half of the mixture in a separate bowl or container.

3. Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente (about 2-3 minutes). Drain and immediately add to tomato mixture, tossing well to combine. Plate and drizzle each bowl with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with chopped tomato, basil and drizzle with olive oil and a small pinch of salt and pepper before serving. Enjoy!


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