I like to use an earthy mix of garden herbs in this sauce adapted from my book The Glorious Pasta of Italy (Chronicle Books 2011). Choose your favorite mix, or even a single herb that you are particularly fond of. Just be sure to use a lot of it.
Domenica Marchetti for NPR
Domenica Marchetti for NPR
Makes 4 to 6 servings
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, lightly crushed
3 tablespoons mixed chopped fresh herbs (I use oregano, rosemary and thyme)
1 cup coarsely chopped pitted purple olives, such as gaeta or kalamata, or a mix of purple and green olives, plus 2 tablespoons brine from the olives
2 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, seeded and grated* or 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound fusilli, gemelli or other short, sturdy pasta
Freshly shredded pecorino romano or ricotta salata for serving (optional)
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously.
While the water is heating, warm the oil and garlic in a large frying pan placed over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the garlic releases its fragrance. Sprinkle in the herbs and the olives and brine, and raise the heat to medium. Stir to combine and saute for about 1 minute, then pour in the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Raise the heat to medium-high and simmer, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tomatoes have thickened into a sauce. Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm.
Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir to separate and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions until al dente. Reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water, drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink.
Transfer the pasta to the frying pan and gently toss the pasta and sauce until thoroughly combined, adding a splash or two of cooking water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Transfer the dressed pasta to a warmed serving bowl or to warmed shallow individual bowls and garnish with the cheese, if using. Serve immediately.
*Peeling and grating tomatoes is my favorite way to prepare them for sauce. It works beautifully and produces a lovely fine pulp that requires no additional milling. I prefer it to blanching, peeling and chopping the tomatoes, which I find is just as laborious and can make the tomatoes mushy. Here's how to do it: Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with your fingers (I do this over the sink). Place a box grater on a cutting board with a moat to catch the tomato juice as you grate. Hold the cut side of a tomato flat against the large holes of the grater and grate the tomato, pressing it gently, until only the skin is left in your palm. Continue until you have grated all the tomato halves. As you work, transfer the pulp to a glass or stainless-steel bowl to prevent too much from accumulating on the cutting board.