In the late 1980’s I was fortunate enough to move to Italy with my sister and her family. My sister and her Italian husband lived in West Los Angeles and decided to move to the small town of Broni which was just outside of Milan. The plan was to open a small restaurant/bed and breakfast establishment. Since neither of them had any experience in those areas and I had worked in a restaurant in different capacities over the years, I was called upon to step up and help out. Needless to say, before they finished asking the question I had enthusiastically said YES!!
I’ll never forget my first day behind the counter; a customer ordered “un caffe” or a single Espresso. I was wearing a white t-shirt and within seconds the white t-shirt was splattered and stained with coffee grounds, yeah I failed to properly tighten the espresso bowl on the machine! Maybe I didn’t know everything after all. Oh! How I wish I had a photo of that moment! The photo to the left is of me (blonde) and my sister (brunette) enjoying a well-deserved break from the Grillo Verde kitchen. What a magical time in my life when I learned how to cook tomato sauce from scratch and discovered my passion for cooking, coffee, gelato, and Italy.
For the next six months of my life, it was hard work and long hours, but I would not have had it any other way. I learned to cook authentic Northern Italian pasta dishes and how to make a mean Espresso. This simple tomato and basil sauce recipe is well suited for a small minimalist kitchen and a good reason to shop your local farmers market for fresh, tasty ingredients.
Fresh Tomato & Basil Sauce
The recipe will serve about 4.
6 -7 Medium size ripe Roma tomatoes-peel, de-seed and dice
¼ cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Handful of fresh basil
½ onion diced
3 garlic gloves –pressed
Salt to taste
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Handful of coarse sea salt for the spaghetti cooking water
1 lb DeCecco Spaghetti
Grated Parmesan (optional)
Serve with a nice Chianti or a San Pelligrino sparkling water and a slice of lemon.
Instructions: heat pan over medium heat, after heated add the olive oil, add the diced onions and sauté until soft. Next, add the garlic and stir with wooden spoon, don’t let the garlic turn brown, then add the diced Roma’s and sprinkle a little salt and basil and to bring out the flavor. Simmer for several minutes, if it looks like its drying out turn down the heat a bit and add a tad more olive oil, then add the remaining basil.
Optional: If using red pepper flakes add these when cooking the onion.
About the Roma’s- they must be ripe, or the flavor will be affected. The riper the Roma, the more tomato flavor your sauce will have. I indicate to peel the skin and remove seeds from the tomatoes, the purpose is a peeled tomato will provide for a creamier fresh sauce and the removal of the seeds will avoid any bitter flavor. A simple way to peel Roma tomatoes is by dropping them in boiling water for about a minute, remove with a slotted spoon, cool slightly then pull the skins off. If you are short on time, then you can skip the peel and seed removal. However, I recommend at some point you try the above to determine for yourself if the extra 5 -10 minutes is worth it.
I shred and add half of the basil while simmering the tomatoes, and the last half is shred and tossed on top of the sauce. If you’re short on time, you can use the frozen basil available from Trader Joes. Don’t add the frozen at the last-minute because well, it won’t cook properly.
Easy peel your garlic by cutting off one tip and microwaving for a few seconds. This will loosen the peel, and the clove will pop out nicely. Don’t let the garlic overcook and turn brown.
When the pasta is cooked, do not rinse, the starch remaining on the spaghetti after draining helps the sauce to adhere to the spaghetti noodles. Please don’t overcook the spaghetti.
While I prepare my sauce ingredients, I have a large stockpot of boiling water at the ready. After the sauce is simmering on the stove, I’ll drop in the spaghetti and put my timer on for 10 minutes or time indicated on the package. Bring the spaghetti to boil while stirring occasionally, then after about 2 minutes cover the pot (don’t uncover until the timer minutes are up) and remove from burner, let sit until the timer goes off then check your spaghetti for doneness. If it needs a little more time, simply recover and let sit for another minute or until the spaghetti is cooked to your taste.