I guess most people have a food that defines summer. For me this tomato pasta dish is it. I mean it is IT. The meal I wait for. All year long. The dish that means summer is really, truly here. This is a little problematic because where I live the tomatoes don't come on in any kind of serious quantities until the end of August, and we could get snow in October. And it could last until May. It would be so much better for my mental health if summer began for me when, say, the first zucchini ripened in June. But one has only so much control over these things, and my personal gastronomy is ruled by a simple formula: tomatoes = summer. I suspect I'm in good company.
I hope it goes without saying that unless you are at some kind of amazing food shop, store bought tomatoes do not equal summer or anything else. This has been well documented and much commented on, and any real tomato lover knows it in her bones anyway. Tomatoes must only be eaten at their peak; anything else is just plain foolish. To get the good ones you need to a) grow them yourself, b) convince friends to part with some they grew, c) find some in your CSA box, or d) get thee to a farmers market.
When I first had this dish I was living on a small farm in Northern California where we ate good food pretty much all the time. The day someone concocted this delightful pasta stands out, though, among the best. I remember going upstairs immediately after lunch to grab the cookbook where I write my favorite recipes, sitting on the kitchen stairs and asking the cook to describe exactly how she made such a miraculous dish. Turns out, it couldn't be simpler.
Years later, I found a very similar recipe in Gourmet magazine, which suggested one slight improvement - grating a small portion of the tomato. You'll see. It's perfection.
- 4 large, ripe tomatoes (or 6-8 small ones)
- 2/3 cup basil leaves
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup good olive oil
- 1 pound of linguini or angel hair pasta
- your choice of cheese: freshly grated Parmesan, a 3x3x1" block of feta, or some fresh mozzarella
- salt and pepper
Pile the basil leaves into stacks of 4-6 leaves and then slice each stack into thin ribbons. Place in a large bowl with the minced garlic. Cut three of the tomatoes into 1/2" chunks. Slice the last tomato in half. Chop one half into 1/2" chunks; grate the other half on the largest holed side of your grater, cut side down. Discard the skin. Add all the tomato chunks and the grated tomato pulp to the bowl. Gently stir in the olive oil and 1 t. salt. Let the mixture sit with its own goodness for at least ten minutes and at most two hours.
Boil the pasta according to the directions on the package.
Mix the pasta in with the tomato, taste for salt and grind some pepper on the top. Add the cheese of your choice, and serve, drizzling on a little extra olive oil as desired.
Enjoy the taste of summer.