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The (Raw) Tomato Sauce That Gets Better the Less You Do to It

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Quite possibly the best way to enjoy really good, ripe summer tomatoes—as well as making the most of spending as little time in front of a hot stove as possible—is this raw tomato sauce for pasta.

Ripe San Marzano tomatoes.
Ripe San Marzano tomatoes. Photo by Emiko Davies

It's something my Tuscan husband often makes for lunch on a warm day when he's craving pasta al pomodoro (he often craves this simple, homely comforting dish), but either doesn't have the patience to cook the sauce or the desire to turn on the stove (except to boil the pasta).


Patience Gray, who spent 20 years in the Mediterranean (including Tuscany and Puglia) and wrote about her food experiences in her wonderful recipe-memoir, Honey from a Weed (1986), includes a recipe for this refreshing dish that she notes does not need any cheese. I agree with her, though sometimes, if I want to make it a little more substantial, a ball of fresh fior di latte mozzarella, torn up, goes quite nicely.

Photos by Emiko Davies

She instructs to peel, remove seeds from, and chop ripe yet firm tomatoes, then to pound them in a mortar with 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, salt, and a hot green pepper. Ripped up basil leaves (tomatoes are, as Jane Grigson says, basil's soulmate) and olive oil finish off this “dressing,” and it's added to hot pasta the moment it has been drained.

Jane Grigson, in her Vegetable Book (1978), has a similar recipe but adds a couple of spring onions to the garlic, leaves out the chile, and lets the mixture sit for 3 hours in the refrigerator, so that the flavors are drawn out and can get to know each other.

Photo by Emiko Davies

More than recipes, I think these are simply good ideas, suggestions, for doing as little as necessary to this delicious preparation.

Peeling the skin off the tomatoes is important, as is removing the seeds. There are many ways to remove the skin from tomatoes by blanching: Patience instructs to pour boiling water over the tomatoes in a bowl, but I like to blanch them directly in the pot where the pasta will cook—it saves time and washing up. Skins removed, you can chop (my preference), but some like to blend the tomatoes for a smooth sauce. My husband's nonna used to just squeeze the tomatoes into bits with her hands. You can prepare it in minutes, or make it well in advance and leave it to chill.

I find that you can get the best out of the tomatoes if you let them sit out of the fridge for about 15 minutes with a good seasoning of salt—at room temperature fresh tomatoes are at their tastiest and the time allows the salt to draw some of the juice out of the chopped tomatoes. If you have really good tomatoes, fresh basil, and good olive oil, you're already more than halfway there.

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Raw Tomato Sauce (Salsa Cruda di Pomodoro)

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Serves 4
  • 2 pounds (1 kilo) ripe tomatoes
  • 1 good pinch sea salt flakes
  • 1 handful of fresh basil leaves
  • 12 ounces (350 grams) spaghetti
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Optional: finely chopped garlic, dry or fresh chile, 2 finely chopped spring onions

Emiko, a.k.a. Emiko Davies, is a food writer and cookbook author living in Tuscany, where she writes about (and eats!) regional Italian foods. You can read more of her writing on her blog.

Have you made no-cook tomato sauce before? How did you doctor it, if at all? Tell us in the comments.

Tags: tomatoes, Italian cooking, Regional Italian Cuisine, pasta, sauce