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

By • August 19, 2014 • 25 Comments

195 Save

If you like it, save it!

Save and organize all of the stuff you love in one place.

Got it!

If you like something…

Click the heart, it's called favoriting. Favorite the stuff you like.

Got it!


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.
Jump to Comments (25)

Comments (25) Questions (1)

Default-small
Default-small
Img_1405

3 months ago youngna park

Added some bacon + sauteed onions in with with the tomato water. Terrific!

Default-small

4 months ago Darlene

My family loved this recipe and I loved the technique of salting the tomatoes and adding the tomato water to the pan. We will be making this frequently, especially when we have nice fresh Jersey tomatoes. I'm glad I resisted the temptation to add cheese, wanting to experience the simplicity of the recipe, but I couldn't stop myself from adding toasted pignoli. Simple and delicious!

Default-small

4 months ago tpeters3

Made this last night...and it was super delicious. The seasoning is just right. However, in the last steps, I added the chopped tomatoes to the sauce to warm them up a bit. Have lots of crusty bread available to sop up the delicious sauce. This is a real winner with all the fresh tomatoes currently available.

Default-small

4 months ago Horto

i would just leave it out

Default-small

4 months ago Phillie Filly

I too am confused by step #5 as was TrevorC in his comments. I don't get it. Can someone explain please? Is this an error? Thank you in advance for your efforts in answering my question.

Miglore

4 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Hi Phillie -- sorry for the confusion. Ruhlman wrote the recipe in a fairly loose, blog-like style to tell us what to attack, in chronological order, to get dinner done quickly on a weeknight. In step 5, he's basically saying that if your water is boiling at that point, you can start cooking the pasta. If it's not, you can proceed to the garlic (choose your own adventure!). I tried to clarify that in the instructions, but let me know if it's still unclear.

Default-small

4 months ago Phillie Filly

Thank you Kristen......Now I understand the directions...........

Default-small

4 months ago TrevorC

Looks like a great recipe. I'm a bit confused by step #5: "Cook your pasta, drain it, put it back in the pot ... (If your water isn’t boiling yet, you should still get your garlic cooking)."
If the pasta has already been cooked and drained, why is there an issue with water not yet boiling?

Miglore

4 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Hi TrevorC -- please see my response to Phillie Filly above.

Default-small

4 months ago brokensaucer

This recipe is sooooo good. I have a ton of garden tomatoes and this is a fantastic way to use them.
I also had a cup of shredded zucchini leftover from making zucchini bread which I tossed in with the pasta. I may use a tad less butter next time but I will absolutely make it again.

Default-small

4 months ago Nancy Hirshberg

Delicious! We just had it for dinner. I cut back the butter a tad to 4 tbs and would cut the salt a tad too. But it's the best fresh tomato pasta dish I've made.

Default-small

4 months ago Judith Fine-Sarchielli

Thanks for the instruction Kristen!

Default-small

4 months ago pickures

I just made this dish for dinner tonight using penne pasta. The instructions were so easy and the dish itself was out of this world! My husband absolutely loved it!
Thanks for this delicious, yummy meal!,

Img_7045_edit

4 months ago zephyr050

Totally yummy. i've done this type of thing for years.
One major difference--i always peel my tomatoes--because it make a positively major, wonderful difference.

Stringio

3 months ago Kay Morgan

Good to hear that someone else always peels tomatoes. I don't like the skins.

Open-uri20140725-2360-tq3atc

4 months ago maryaskew

Help! How many lbs of tomato do we get from 4 large tomatoes? 2 lbs? 3?

Default-small

4 months ago Judith Fine-Sarchielli

Kristen, I don't understand what pictures you mean to go to see your explanation. I think you mean to add the tomato water to the sauce and simmer to the right consistency or it could be too thing.

Miglore

4 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Hi Judith, sorry for the confusion -- I meant to see my response to a comment from pickures below (which I spelled incorrectly before, sorry!), but I will paste the answer here too. You can also see more photos on the article page here: https://food52.com/blog...

The tomato water will be drawn out from the salted tomatoes as you work on the rest of the dish. Then the water will stream out as you strain the tomatoes over the pan of garlic in step 7 -- I just added a note to help clarify that. Hope it's clearer now!

Stringio

4 months ago Karlie Roubal

will defiantly try (but with zucchini pasta- no carbs)

Default-small

4 months ago pickures

I do not see any instructions about 'tomato' water either. can someone let me and Judith [and anyone else who is interested] how to actually prepare the tomato water so we can make this delicious sounding recipe? thanks

Miglore

4 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

The tomato water will be drawn out from the salted tomatoes as you work on the rest of the dish. Then the water will stream out as you strain the tomatoes over the pan of garlic in step 7 -- I just added a note to help clarify that. Hope it's clearer now!

Default-small

4 months ago Judith Fine-Sarchielli

Where does the tomato water come in? I don't see instructions for how to use it.

Miglore

4 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Hi Judith -- see my note above to picktures.

20141114_100554

4 months ago Susan W

I love the idea of tomato water. I am going to combine this recipe with the One Pot Pasta recipe that I am currently obsessed with. I use butter instead of olive oil, so the two recipes should meld beautifully. I'll toss the chopped tomatoes in at the end.

Image

4 months ago Regine

Yum. Can't wait to try. However, since most pasta (at least where I shop in Maryland) comes in 16oz not 12oz, and I am both lazy (to weigh pasta) and greedy (16oz barely feed my family of 4), I will adjust the proportions accordingly. LOL
So for 16oz or 1 lb pasta, I ll use 5 tomatoes, about 2 to 2 2/3 tsp salt, 13 garlic, 11/3 cup basil and 4 oz (1 stick) butter.