“We Italians like to undersauce our pasta. The whole idea is, you want to taste the pasta,” said Piero Selvaggio during a cooking demonstration at his restaurant, Valentino, in Santa Monica.
Selvaggio is from Sicily, but that didn’t stop him from participating in a promotion of pasta from Naples. Who would not support a pasta-making tradition that is five centuries old and has given birth to more than 140 shapes, both short and long? These, furthermore, are made with water and wheat that are superior to what is available in other parts of Italy, according to the Neapolitans.
Selvaggio chose spaghetti for a dish that shows how good pasta can be with very little sauce. If you like easy recipes, this is one of the best. There’s nothing in it but tomatoes, a garlic clove and a basil sprig.
Because they are the main ingredient, the tomatoes have to be very, very flavorful. Selvaggio recommends farmers market heirloom tomatoes at peak season.
I use canned San Marzano tomatoes, which happen to be from Naples. Their brilliant flavor makes this dish so good I serve it with nothing more than grilled zucchini, lightly seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper; a salad and red wine.
SPAGHETTI AL POMODORO E BASILICO
Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil Sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 (14.28-ounce) can Italian chopped tomatoes in tomato puree
1 large sprig basil (6 or 7 large leaves)
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
Few grinds black pepper
8 ounces spaghetti
½ cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic and cook gently 1 minute. Do not allow to brown.
Add the undrained tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper and stir. Cover and cook gently 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the basil sprig and discard. Keep the sauce warm.
Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water according to package instructions until al dente. Drain.
Return the spaghetti to the pot, and add the tomato sauce. Toss until combined. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss. Serve at once with grated Pecorino on the side to add as desired.
Makes 4 servings.