A Fresh Tomato Pasta and a few thoughts

by ck

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Keeping this blog–trying to post one recipe a week–has been great for a lot of reasons.  Among them: I actually have a record of the changes I made to that cake, or this pasta; it’s a kind of visual journal, where (as opposed to my actual journal) I can include art or images that appeal to me in the moment; and instead of forgetting what I like to cook when spring rolls around, I have a written account of what I’ve made and enjoyed. I find that as the seasons change I get a sort of seasonal amnesia, like: ‘I know I ate well a year ago, and I know I had a few go-to recipes…what were they?’ Of course I make more dinners and desserts than I put on here (lately, WAY more desserts…) but it feels good to have a weekly goal, and to think about how to approach each recipe.  I’ve started to feel kind of lazy when I just throw a recipe up without any reflection. I’ve also learned a lot about the amount of thought that goes into each post for individuals running popular sites, like DALS or The Wednesday Chef.  I’d always known it couldn’t be easy coming up with all that content, but the consistent quality of their posts is really remarkable.  I can’t imagine how they find an angle, or an anecdote, for every single recipe. In the academic world, I think it’s common for classmates and coworkers to lament a creative dry spell. But with ‘lifestyle’ blogs, because the writing is more colloquial and the topics less literary, I find that consumers are less appreciative of the effort that goes into composing frequent, noteworthy posts.  (See the bottom of this post and the comments section for both sides of that issue.)

Coming from an academic background, I’ve also had to re-learn how to write in a conversational way.  For me, that shift consists of second-guessing myself less and allowing for lots of parenthetical asides, em dashes (–) and run-on sentences.

That’s all to say that a lot of thoughts were swirling around my head when I decided to include this recipe. I have a hundred anecdotes surrounding it (another key part about transitioning from academic to casual language: allowing for hyperboles) and it’s a recipe that I think embodies the essence of informal Italian cooking. It’s also simple, creamy (thanks to starchy pasta water) and the sauce works well on eggs or even fish.

One of my favorite memories of this dish is from two summers ago, when I was on vacation at the beach with a big group of friends (half american, half italian) and we ate some variation of this pasta most nights, still wearing our bathing suits, smelling of salt, and with sandy calves and hands. One night (Ferragosto) we added a couple of spoonfuls of vibrant green pesto to the finished dish and ate sitting on the beach. Looking down the coast towards the towns that dotted the shoreline, we could see pinpricks of light that flickered as they rose into the air. Lanterns are a big part of ferragosto, so after dinner we made our own.

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Here’s the recipe.

Gather your ingredients: as much pasta as you’d like to eat (let’s say for two.) I used whole-wheat penne. A pint of cherry tomatoes. 2 cloves of garlic (sliced.) Red pepper flakes. Olive oil. Salt. Parmesan, for grating. A few basil leaves per person.

Put a big pot of water on to boil. As water boils, put a large, heavy saucepan (the pan must be big enough to hold the amount of pasta you want to cook) over medium heat and add 2 tbsp olive oil.  Once oil is hot, add sliced garlic and saute until lightly browned. Add a couple of shakes of red pepper flakes (very little if you don’t like spice.) Add cherry tomatoes whole, push garlic to the side so it doesn’t burn, and turn heat up to medium-high. Cover and cook for 10 min, or until tomatoes blister and burst. Once the tomatoes blister, push down with spatula (careful not to splash yourself!) to release juices, then turn heat down again until the sauce just simmers.  At this point the water should be boiling– add pasta. 2 crucial things need to happen now: 1) you need to take about 1/2 c. of the starchy pasta water right before you drain the pasta and add it to the sauce and 2) you need to take the pasta out 2 minutes or so before the package says it’ll be done. Once the pasta is drained, add it to the sauce and bring the heat up again, stirring and reducing until the sauce coats the pasta and the pasta is cooked. Plate and add grated parmesan along with a few torn basil leaves.

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