I would say that I’m on an Italian kick, but since Italian food is one of my frequent consolations against a cold, uncaring world, I guess it would be more accurate to say I’ve been having a time of it lately.
Yesterday, we had an Iron Chef competition at work. This is where a group of people come in with no recipes and as many ingredients as we can provide and are timed as they attempt to make several dishes under the guidance of chefs. In this case, it was 44 people. Afterwards, the kitchen looked like my imagining of the hotel room aftermath of a group of particularly drunken rock stars who are culinarily inclined but absolutely hapless. It amazes me how often, while I’m mid-scrub trying to put the kitchen arights, a customer will say to me, “Your job is so much fun!” Zuh? What they mean by that is that they had fun, which is great and completely the aim. However, it’s on nights like these that I need to ingest epic portions of pasta. And cookies. Cookies start threading my soul back together. It is also on nights like these that the thought of approaching a stove in any ambitious way makes my heart tremulous. It recoils in exhausted terror. “Please, Jaime, haven’t you hurt me enough today? When does it end, dear God, when does it end?” My heart is given to melodrama. We’re working on it.
However, this is not an excuse for opening a jar of pasta sauce. In my house there is never an excuse for opening a jar of pasta sauce, not even the most chaotic of iron chef competitions. This is an excuse to throw together my favorite Pomodoro sauce. If I happen to have heirloom tomatoes lying around, as I did last night, so much the better.
2 tomatoes or 5 Roma tomatoes, small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup basil, chiffonade
1/2 cup shredded cheese (mozzarella, gouda, edam, provolone, any melting cheese will do it. I used one called “salami” cheese. Yeah, I know. Strange. It did not taste like salami, though that would have been ok.)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 lb pasta (fresh if you can get it, but boxed is fine too). I prefer thin spaghetti or angel hair for this sauce, but that’s just me.
Salt pasta water and bring to a boil while you’re chopping the other ingredients.
Cook pasta until al dente. Do not throw your pasta at a wall. This is silly. And messy. Just taste it to see if it’s right. This sauce takes 1 minute or so from start to finish and will only get better hanging around until your pasta is done.
Put a pan on high heat. Immediately add olive oil and the garlic and cook 30 seconds until the garlic is fragrant. This is one of the exceptions to the “always heat the pan ahead of time” rule. Don’t let the garlic brown or you will have to start again. That’s why it should only go about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes. Toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Cook 30 seconds to 1 minute. Take off heat.
Once the pasta is al dente and strained, place in a large bowl and add the sauce, basil, and cheese right on top.
Toss until cheese is melted. Done.
You could add other things to this, but the beauty of this dish for me is how simple it is and how standout all the ingredients become when there aren’t too many of them. It also takes only 15 minutes, not counting the time it takes for water to boil.
I always make two portions because I love this so much, I always crave it the next day.
It is even better the next day.