Spaghetti seems to elicit fairly strong opinions. Kids almost universally love it, while some adults seem to look down on it, as if it were a lower-class, or infantile pasta shape -- and far inferior to, say, pappardelle. But spaghetti, let's face it, is a pretty lovely thing. Scott Conant, the Scarpetta mastermind, and our recent interview subject, understands the merits of said pasta shape more than most. His hand-made spaghetti, served with tomato and basil, has made the rounds on a few different popular television shows.
Actually, in part 2 of our interview with Conant, the chef told us that his seventy-five-seat restaurant in New York served close to two-thousand portions of that very spaghetti last year. All that despite a price (twenty-four dollars) which some people seem to find outrageous. Regardless, it is damn fine spaghetti, and you can turn the page to see the recipe for yourself.
Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce and Basil
From: Chef Scott Conant, of Scarpetta.
Makes: 4 servings
About 20 ripe plum tomatoes
About 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to finish the dish
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 ounce freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1/2 cup)
6 to 8 fresh basil leaves, well washed and dried, stacked and rolled into a cylinder and cut thinly crosswise into a chiffonade
1 pound spaghetti, either high-quality dry or homemade
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1. 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 and cook, let boil for about 15 seconds, and then promptly move them to the waiting ice water. (Do this with the remaining tomatoes.) Pull off the skin with the tip of a paring knife. If the skin sticks, try a vegetable peeler using a gentle sawing motion. Cut the tomatoes in half and use your finger to flick out the seeds.
2. To cook the tomatoes: In a wide pan, heat the 1/3 cup of olive oil over medium-high heat until quite hot. Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and season lightly with the salt and pepper. (Conant says, "I always start with a light hand with the salt and pepper because as the tomatoes reduce, the salt will become concentrated.")
3. Let the tomatoes cook for a few minutes to soften. Then, using a potato masher, chop the tomatoes finely. Cook the tomatoes for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tomatoes are tender and the sauce has thickened. (You can make the sauce, which yields about 3 cups, ahead of time. Refrigerate it for up to 2 days or freeze it for longer storage.)
4. 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 of the pasta cooking 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 (you can even shake the pan) until the pasta is just tender and the sauce, if any oil had separated from it, now looks cohesive. (If the sauce seems too thick, add a little pasta cooking liquid to adjust it.) Take the pan off of the heat and toss the butter, basil, and cheese with the pasta in the same manner (the pasta should take on an orange hue) and serve immediately.