Michael Ruhlman's Pasta with Tomato Water, Basil, and Garlic

By • August 19, 2014 30 Comments

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Author Notes: Tomatoes do double duty in the summer's best pasta -- and it all comes together in the time it takes to set the table. Michael Ruhlman first read the bones of this recipe in a long-since-forgotten paperback cookbook in 1984. "I had never heard of fresh basil," he told me. "So I used dry and it was still pretty good." It's been a weeknight staple in his family ever since, and over the past thirty years, he's refined the technique -- now mounting the tomato water with butter to make a brightly flavored sauce that clings to the noodles. Adapted slightly from ruhlman.comGenius Recipes

Serves 2 to 4

  • 4 ripe tomatoes, large dice
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 12 ounces spaghetti or any pasta you like
  • 10 cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup basil, cut into ribbons
  • 3 ounces butter, cut into three chunks
  • Olive oil, as needed
  1. Season the tomatoes with the salt and toss them well.
  2. Put a big pot of water on to boil.
  3. Smash the garlic with the flat side of a knife, give it all a few rough chops with the knife and set them a side in a small bowl.
  4. Cut the basil into ribbons or roughly chop it. Take a pinch of this basil, chop it finely, and add it to the tomatoes to season the water.
  5. Cook your pasta, drain it, put it back in the pot, and oil the pasta to keep it from sticking to itself. (Meanwhile, even if your water isn’t boiling yet, you should still get your garlic cooking in the next step).
  6. Heat a teaspoon or two of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the garlic and cook it till it is just beginning to brown around the edges and soften, a couple minutes. Give it a pinch of salt if you wish.
  7. Pour the tomatoes into a strainer or colander over the garlic so that the tomato water will stream into the pan below. Set the strainer with the tomatoes into the bowl so they don’t drip on the counter, and swirl the sauce to bring it to a simmer. Add the butter while continuing to swirl or stir the sauce. Keep the sauce moving until all the butter is melted. Add the pasta and toss to coat the pasta evenly. Divide the pasta among four bowls and top with the tomatoes and basil.

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