There is no better way to showcase the succulent, end-of-summer tomatoes than using them to flavor this simple, yet delicious dish.
Throughout Italy there are many versions of raw tomato sauces: a similar dish I had published in my Mediterranean Hot and Spicy. It was more spicy, based in Crudaiola the name used for the sauce in Puglia –the heal of the Italian boot.
Similar sauces are whipped-up all over the Italian south and probably more famous is pesto Trapanese, from the eponymous Sicilian city, which combines almonds, tomatoes, and cheese. I recently came accross this other Sicilian peasant version in Serious Eats: ‘Spaghetti Alla Carrettiera’ which I consider by far the best of the raw tomato sauces; and also the simplest.
As we read in the recipe’s intro “In the olden days, wandering cart drivers would crisscross the Italian countryside, selling goods, wares, and basic cooking ingredients to the townspeople along the way. When they were hungry, they’d quickly whip up a sauce like this using just the basic ingredients they had on their cart.” One can add cheese, but I found that it is not really needed. I suggest you try it first without.
Following the Greek and Eastern Mediterranean tradition I do not blanch and skin, or seed the tomatoes, but simply cut in half and grate them to get their pulp. I always felt that the greenish jelly around the tomato’s seeds is especially delicious, so I don’t want to lose it.
This uncooked tomato sauce is extremely versatile ideal for pasta but can also be the topping for bruschetta, the dressing for cooked beans, or for grilled fish, meat or poultry.
You need to make it when tomatoes are at their best, red and meaty. Because I like it so much, I freeze several batches of fresh summer tomato pulp to make it even in winter.
The recipe is adapted from Serious Eats.
About 1 pound (450g) ripe, non-refrigerated tomatoes (3-4 tomatoes)
About 1/4 cup (60ml) fruity olive oil, more for drizzling
1/4 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped fresh basil leaves, plus a few more for serving
3 medium cloves garlic, very finely minced
1 large pinch red pepper flakes
1 pound (450g) dried spaghetti or linguine
About 1/2 cup (35g) toasted breadcrumbs, preferably whole wheat
Grated Kefalotyri or Pecorino for serving (optional)
Cut each tomato in half and discard the hard stem. Holding the skin side of the tomato half grate it slowly and carefully on a large-hole onion grater into a large heatproof mixing or serving bowl. You will be left with just the tomato skin. It is okay if some slightly larger pieces of tomatoes remain. Add olive oil, basil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Stir well and season with salt to taste. Set aside.
In a pot boil enough water for the pasta, and season with salt. Cook the spaghetti or linguine, stirring frequently, until al dente. When pasta has almost finished cooking, transfer about 3 tablespoons cup pasta cooking water to the tomato mixture and whisk to form an emulsion.
Using tongs, transfer pasta to tomato mixture and vigorously toss and stir to emulsify the sauce and coat the pasta. If it seems dry, add a bit more pasta cooking water.
Add half of the breadcrumbs and toss to combine. The pasta should be well coated with creamy, emulsified sauce. If it still seems dry, add extra pasta water and olive oil, 1 tablespoon (15ml) at a time, until it reaches the desired consistency. Taste for seasoning.
Transfer the pasta to warmed plates and sprinkle with remaining breadcrumbs and some additional torn basil leaves. Top with cheese, if desired.
Serve right away.