Is it too soon to reflect on 2013? After a year marauded by cronut this and Frankenfood that, we’re pleased as punch to write about anything that doesn’t sound like a stoner foodie’s fantasy. Scarpetta chef Scott Conant—author of the just-released Scarpetta Cookbook—has long prepared his signature spaghetti without mucking up its heritage, combining little more than basil, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, olive oil, ripe plum tomatoes, butter, and salt to create something truly spectacular. It’s as simple as that—no waiting in line for eight hours, no baking anything inside a garlic-flavored donut. Just pile the sauce-coated noodles in in a white pasta bowl, Scarpetta-style. Check out Conant’s recipe here, and be sure to pick up a signed copy of the cookbook at our Los Angeles magazine Social Hour event at Scarpetta on October 23.
Scarpetta Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce
This spaghetti is among the first recipes of mine that got a lot of attention, and I love that fact because it exemplifies everything I believe in as a chef: treating ingredients with respect, paying attention to detail, and elevating simplicity.
Scarpetta tomato sauce
1 pound fresh spaghetti
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
16 whole fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.
Meanwhile, put the tomato sauce in a large sauté pan and cook over medium heat to further concentrate the sauce’s flavors.
Cook the spaghetti until just shy of tender. Reserve some of the pasta cooking water and gently drain the spaghetti. Add the spaghetti and a little of the pasta cooking water to the pan with the sauce; the starch and salt in that water will help the sauce adhere to the pasta. Give the pan a good shake, increase the heat to medium-high, and let the pasta finish cooking in the sauce. The sauce should coat the pasta and look cohesive, and when you shake the pan, the sauce and pasta should move together.
Take the pan off the heat and add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, butter, and basil. Using two wooden spoons (tongs can tear the fresh pasta), toss everything together well.
Divide the pasta among serving bowls. Finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and serve.
Which wine? A red wine with low acidity will counter the intense tomato sauce. Barbera or Dolcetto should work well. Choose a classic with medium body and dark red fruits, like Enaudi or Marcarini.
Scarpetta Tomato Sauce
(Makes 3 cups)
I know it seems crazy that this sauce, which paired with fresh spaghetti is a signature dish at Scarpetta, is in the pantry chapter of the book. But this is also what we use in every recipe that calls for tomato sauce, whether it’s by the tablespoon or the cup. The infused oil is the secret that makes this sauce so great. Not only does it give the sauce a supple texture, but it also reinforces the flavors of the basil and the crushed red pepper while introducing just a hint of garlic. And it’s about as easy to make as a cup of tea; you simply let the ingredients steep in the hot oil. For the best consistency, use a potato masher to break up the tomatoes as they cook. It’s a trick I learned from watching tomato sauce preparation in my Italian household.
Extra-virgin olive oil
12 plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded, plus any juices from peeling and seeding, strained and reserved (see Note*)
Kosher salt 10 cloves garlic 3 sprigs fresh basil (about 24 leaves plus stems)
1 to 1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
In a wide saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes; be careful, as the oil may spurt. Add 1 ½ teaspoons salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and, using a potato masher, smash the tomatoes, really working the masher to break them up. If the consistency is thick, add the reserved tomato juice to the pan. Cook, occasionally mashing and stirring, for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, basil, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally to wilt the basil, until the garlic is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove the oil from the heat and let the ingredients steep for 5 minutes.
Strain about half of the oil into the cooked tomatoes. (Strain and reserve the rest of the flavorful oil; it’s a great bread-dipping oil.) Stir to combine. Remove the sauce from the heat. Taste and add additional salt, if needed. The sauce may taste spicy on its own, but it gets balanced when used with other ingredients, especially the pasta, butter, and cheese in the Scarpetta Spaghetti.
The sauce will keep, covered and refrigerated, for 2 days. Reheat gently before serving.
*Note: If your tomatoes are not ripe, bright, and juicy, reduce the number of fresh tomatoes to 8 and add 4 whole canned San Marzano.
Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, from The Scarpetta Cookbook by Scott Conant. Photography by Brent Herrig. Copyright 2013.