Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce and Basil from Scarpetta
20 ripe plum tomatoes
1/3 c extra virgin olive oil
1 pinch of crushed red pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 oz freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
6 to 8 fresh basil leaves, well washed and dried, stacked, rolled into a cylinder, and thinly cut (crosswise) into a chiffonade
1 lb spaghetti, either high-quality dry or homemade
To peel the tomatoes, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have a large bowl of ice water nearby. Cut a small “x” on the bottom of each tomato. Ease about five tomatoes in the pot, let boil for about 15 seconds, and then promptly move the tomatoes into the bowl of ice water. Repeat this step with the remaining tomatoes. Pull off the skin with the tip of a paring knife. If the skin sticks, try using a vegetable peeler and apply a gentle sawing motion. Cut the tomatoes in half and use your finger to flick out the seeds.
After that, cook the tomatoes. Start by heating the 1/3 cup of olive oil over medium-high heat, in a wide pan, until quite hot. Add the tomatoes and crushed red pepper flakes, and season lightly with salt and pepper. The trick is to only add a light amount of salt and pepper, because as the tomatoes reduce, the salt will become more concentrated. Let the tomatoes cook for a few minutes until softened. Then, using a potato masher, finely chop the tomatoes. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tomatoes are tender and the sauce has thickened.
Note: The sauce yields about 3 cups and can be made ahead of time. It can be refrigerated for up to two days, or stored in the freezer for a longer timespan, if needed.
To serve, bring a large pot of amply-salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti until just shy of al dente. Reserve a little bit of the leftover pasta water. Add the pasta to the sauce and cook over medium-high heat, gently tossing the pasta and the sauce together with a couple of wooden spoons and a lot of exaggerated movement. (Shake the pan if you need to!) The goal is to get the pasta tender and the sauce cohesive. If the sauce seems too thick, add a little bit of the pasta water. Take the pan off of the heat and toss the butter, basil, and cheese with the pasta like you did with the sauce. The pasta should take on an orange hue. Serve immediately.