Summer is in its final days and there are still some tomatoes and basil coming in our CSA boxes. This means we'll be able to celebrate the end of the season, even though the tomatoes in my garden are long gone and the basil plants still look like seedlings. Perhaps this summer was too dry and too cold, as it is every year in this part of the world, for such warm weather bounty.
My daughter once spied a picture of a similar bowl of pasta on a magazine cover long ago, bright red tomatoes and verdant basil nestled like jewels into a bed of her favorite starch. She brought it to me, poking the scrumptious looking photo with her finger and saying "Mommy, Mommy! I want to make this!" So we did. And we continue to, whenever there are lots of good, big, tomatoes and a bunch of basil in the house.
One of my favorite things about this recipe is that the tomatoes are not skinned. Skinning tomatoes is really a pain. Alhough we could just buy a carton of preserved, peeled tomatoes at the store, the fresh ones taste a thousand times better, whether they have their skins on or not. It is important, however, to seed the tomatoes. Not only does this make chopping them easier and less messy, but the finished dish will be more delicious. Thankfully this process is infinitely easier and faster than removing skins. Here's what I do:
Slice each tomato in half lengthwise.
Cut out the core.
Hold each half over a bowl, to catch the juices.
Most of the seeds and excess juice will end up in the bowl, which you can strain and keep for some other meal, like minestrone soup. Wipe any remaining seeds off the fruit after squeezing, chop the remaining tomato and move on to the next one. As soon as the tomatoes are done, this meal comes together in a jiffy. Serve it with salad (the arugula one is especially good here) or nothing at all.
Stephen's Summer Spaghetti: (adapted from Canal House Cooking Vol 1, p.58)
1 pound spaghetti
6 tomatoes, halved, cored, squeezed of seeds and juice, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, smashed a bit but not chopped
big bunch of basil, leaves chopped
salt & pepper
Start a large pot of well salted water over high heat on the stove - it should taste slightly like the sea. When the water comes to a boil cook the spaghetti in it. Have a colander ready in the sink for draining.
While the water heats, also heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and cook until it softens, then remove and discard. Add the basil and tomatoes, stir and cook briefly, until just heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cook the pasta until it is just a little bit more crunchy than you would ultimately like it to be, about 3/4 of the way done. Scoop out 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then drain the spaghetti and return it to the pot. Return the pot to the stove. Turn on the heat to medium, stir in the tomatoes and all the juices from the skillet. Cook for about five more minutes, stir in grated parmesan cheese, then serve with more cheese and olive oil at the table.