The Simplest of Pasta (spaghetti with a Neruda – 117 years – tomato sauce)

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The Simplest of Pasta (spaghetti with a Neruda tomato sauce)

‘the tomato
invades
the kitchen’

‘…the tomato,
star of earth, recurrent
and fertile…’
Pablo Neruda

Ingredients:
10-12 fully ripened cherry tomatoes
6-10 Piccadilly tomatoes
1 sweet red onion
good unsalted butter
salt
sugar
honey (medium sweet)
black pepper
bi-carbonate of soda
1 handful of sweet, small leaf basil
180 grams of hard-grain wheat spaghetti
serves 2

The simplest of things… aren’t. Not really. Everything has a depth to it. Things seen or felt, their scent… is only the perceivable end, a pause after a long series of countless interactions, each with its own language. So many languages, so many exchanges in each moment, all that happened before you… reach for it, say, a ripe tomato, note its smoothness, color, weight, bring it toward you as you lean forward and breath in. It seems simple, even the simplest, of actions: identifying a vine-ripened tomato. Yet before that moment…. the specific composition of soil had to be formed, the plant had to grow, the fruit ripen, sunshine and temperature and humidity. Then it had to be harvested, shipped, brought to market – rarely do you find a proper tomato in a chain super market produce bin. You will find them in a local market or farm, in season – unless you’ve done the farming yourself. And you have to have some way to compare, experience or a form of intuition, nose, hands, eyes, all the tomatoes you’ve ever eaten codified as the prediction of what that fruit in your hand will taste like after you’ve done the cooking, tried to exalt its flavor. It’s the tomato that talks to you, yes, but also the soil from which it drew its nutrition, the sun, the weather. Picking a great tomato isn’t new age or anything like that but it is complex, necessarily seasonal if not even ephemeral, and holds not a little mystery. No two tomato sauces can ever be the same.
cherry tomatoes

…smell the fruit before placing it into your shopping bag. You should sense the earth, soil sunshine….

A similar notion can be repeated for each of the few ingredients in this recipe, the butter, the sweet red onion, the basil, the large spaghetti… if each is chosen with patience and an odd uncertain certainty – the sauce and dish will turn out wonderfully, simple as it is. First, a little early on – remove the skins from both the cherry (a few seconds after if you’ll do them together) and piccadilly tomatoes in the usual way by placing them briefly into boiling water, maybe a minute, maybe two but as soon as they look ready or immediately if any of the skins split, remove into ice-cold water and cool them asap. Once they have, the skins will slide right off. If you have to open a skin or two with a knife, use one with ridges (like a normal serving knife) that penetrate the skins more easily.
piccadilly

Set them aside or do the rough slicing and/or light crushing (with your hands) if you’r ready to prep the meal. Never, if tomato a principle flavor of the dish you’re preparing, use a mechanical blender on tomato. It ruins them, making their flavor hollow and a bit acidic. If you have the time you can pass them through a tomato sieve but that takes a bit and, truth is, the sauce seems to turn out slightly more flavorful without. In any case, set the tomatoes aside – their scent should be delightfully gratifying.

Get to stewing the onion. Red, firm, and slightly sweet the scent, not overwhelming. Take off the outermost peels, trim the stem and beard, and dice it up roughly – the stem with a little more care. Use two if they’re small. Here you can cheat and speed up the making just a little by using a spoon of EV olive oil on medium heat and sauté the onion in a coverable pan until they begin to become translucent. If you want a little more umph to the final sauce, at the very end you can add a quarter of a well diced sweet garlic clove – but be very careful not to brown it. Then add only enough water to coat the bottom of the pan, a few tablespoons, lower the heat once it begins to boil, add a pat of good unsalted butter, mix it up as it melts. Add a dash of salt, a twist of pepper and a couple dashes of sugar, mix, cover and let it gently stew on lowest heat at least 10 minutes. In the meantime place the big pot of salted water on a burner for the spaghetti. Once the onion has wilted completely but before caramelizing, remove the cover and let the excess water evaporate. Once it has, add the peeled tomatoes and raise the heat to medium. By now the water for the pasta should be about to boil. Add 180 grams or so, and choose a solid hard-grained wheat pasta noodle, preferably passed through bronze machines. I use Rummo, a pretty good industrial brand.

…rest in peace, Mr. Thun…..

Now comes the ‘cook’ part, the adjustments you’ll have to make along the way using your eyes, hands, nose and tongue. After the tomatoes have heated, crush them with a wooden spoon in the pan, add enough salt, pepper, a pinch or two of sugar and bicarbonate of soda, mix well and let the soda do its de-acidification thing. Then taste and adjust and crush again, lower the heat and add a half teaspoon of good honey, medium sweet like sulla or sunflower, mix, taste, adjust again to the flavor balance you’re looking for, then turn off the heat. Now add a small handful of freshly picked, small-leaf roughly sliced sweet basil – use a ceramic knife if you have one or you can use your hands to shred the leaves, and a healthy pat of butter, mix and let the sauce rest for a couple minutes. Taste the pasta noodles for saltiness and adjust them, to, if necessary.

…grow your own basil for more intensity and flavor

By now the pasta should be about ready to go – al dente. Drain the noodles. Two schools of thought to plate: most of the time sautéing the pasta with the sauce is the natural way to go, letting the flavors penetrate into the noodle but for this one… it’s more a personal choice. Twirling the noodles without mixing leaves the sauce more rich and pure, mixing of course flavors the noodles more but slightly alters the sauce. In any case, you can add a spoonful on the bottom beneath the noodles. Then add another pat of fresh butter on top of the spaghetti, then spoon over the sauce abundantly. Try to do the plating in a hurry to keep the spaghetti from drying or cooling. Lightly heated serving plates also aren’t a bad idea (if you’re making it for 4-5 people or fewer you can place the dishes one at a time on the heated water pot and plate the noodles straight in.) Top off with freshly grated parmigiano or not, to taste.

Serve with an easy red or cool white, and enjoy the sunshine, rich soil and salty breeze and sweetness once you place the first fork in your mouth. Most of all though, those summer tomatoes delicately giving forth all that… cool, magic completeness.

link – how tomatoes ripen: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/tomato/do-tomatoes-ripen-from-the-inside-out.htm  


Ode To Tomatoes by Pablo Neruda

The street
filled with tomatoes,
midday,
summer,
light is
halved
like
a
tomato,
its juice
runs
through the streets.
In December,
unabated,
the tomato
invades
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
takes
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
sinks
into living flesh,
red
viscera
a cool
sun,
profound,
inexhaustible,
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
we
pour
oil,
essential
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
pepper
adds
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
parsley
hoists
its flag,
potatoes
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
knocks
at the door,
it’s time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth, recurrent
and fertile
star,
displays
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

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