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Author Notes: This is my desert island food. I have been making it ever since I discovered the recipe in Bon Appetit's May 2011 Italy Issue, which revolutionized the way I made pasta. This particular recipe was created by the incomparable Mario Batali. I have have made this recipe many ways over the past four years and adapted it to suit my tastes, changing the ingredient ratios and adding a bit of cream (the cream is optional, but recommended).
This is not a light meal - this is a curl up in front of the TV on a Sunday night with a bowl of pasta in your lap and a glass of wine in your hand meal. It is worth every single calorie though, I promise you that.
A few notes:
1. Begin with bringing the water to a boil as this dish comes together rather quickly. Also, do not skip salting the water once it boils. This is essential to the pasta's flavor.
2. Use smaller cherry or grape tomatoes as they cook faster (any larger than 1 inch, cut in half). I do not recommend using all red tomatoes, as they have a different texture and take longer to cook. I recommend using all orange, all yellow, or a combination of red, orange, and yellow (the original recipe called for Sun Golds, but those are difficult to find year-round; I usually use Zimas).
3. You can skimp on the olive oil a little, if you wish, without compromising too much flavor - do not use less than 6 tablespoons though.
4. Use your biggest pans - I use a 16-inch high sided skillet and an 8 quart stock pot. It helps the dish cook quicker and more evenly. If you don't have a large skillet, use two pans, and finish the pasta in the stockpot.
5. Use good Parm for this, but it doesn't have to be the best money can buy. My favorite is the Whole Foods 365 Grated Parmesan in the 5 oz. containers (buy 2).
6. DO NOT - I repeat - DO NOT overcook your pasta with this dish. This dish is pretty foolproof, but if you overcook your pasta, it will not taste as good. My recommendation is to drain your pasta about 2 minutes BEFORE al dente - it will continue cooking in the sauce and be perfect when it is done.
7. This recipe is easily halved, but not easily doubled. I recommend making two batches if you need to double it. It does not reheat well. If you want leftovers, reserve remaining pasta water and reheat on the stove with a tablespoon or two of the water until warm.
Adapted from Mario Batali's recipe published in Bon Appetit's wonderful May 2011 Italy Issue. —Courtney C
Serves 2 very generously or 4 happily
- 8 tablespoons Olive Oil, divided
- 8-12 Garlic Cloves - about 1 head, sliced thinly
- 2 pints Multi-Colored Cherry or Grape Tomatoes, rinsed
- 1/2 - 1 teaspoons Red Pepper Flakes (or to taste, I like it spicy)
- 3 - 4 tablespoons Heavy Cream, optional
- 1 1/2 - 2 cups Parmesan Cheese, finely grated and divided, plus more for garnish
- 1 bunch Basil, leaves only, torn roughly
- 1 pound Bucatini, or your favorite long pasta
- Fill your largest stockpot with water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add a good handful (~2 tablespoons) of kosher salt and let return to a boil. Do not add the pasta yet.
- In your largest skillet, heat 6 tablespoons of olive oil over medium until shimmering. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, give them a stir, then add the red pepper flakes and season moderately with salt. Stir to combine. Let the mixture cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to soften. Using a wooden spoon, gently press on the tomatoes until they pop and release their juices (do not force this, if some are not ready, let them cook a few more minutes).
- When the sauce has reached this point, add the pasta to the salted, boiling water. You must drain the pasta when it is 2 minutes before al dente, so test often, and drain when the pasta has a moderate bite to it (follow the directions on the pasta box - if it says al dente at 8 minutes, remove it around 6). After the pasta has reached the half-way point of its cooking time, use a measuring cup to remove 2 cups of pasta water from the pot. Set this aside for now.
- Continue popping the tomatoes until all of the tomatoes are popped. Then, use the spoon to break down the tomatoes even further (the sauce should have visibile texture, but the tomatoes should be quite soft). Once all of the tomatoes have popped and the sauce begins to look relatively homogeneous, add 3/4 cup of the reserved pasta water to the sauce and stir to combine. Let return to a simmer and add the cream one tablespoon at a time. Let return to a simmer and add 2 - 3 tablespoons of Parmesan. Again, stir well to combine and let the sauce return to a simmer. Keep sauce warm over medium low heat until the pasta has been drained.
- Drain the pasta and immediately add it to the pan with the sauce along with the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil. Using tongs, toss well to combine. Increase the heat to high and continue to toss the pasta until the sauce is considerably reduced and all of the pasta is coated in sauce (a few minutes). Turn the heat to low.
- Once the pan has cooled a bit, add 3/4 cup of Parmesan and toss to coat. Add half of the basil and toss again. Add a 1/2 cup of Parmesan and toss. Finally, add the remaining basil and a sprinkle of salt (flaky salt if you have it) and toss briefly. Taste - add more Parmesan if desired. If the sauce is clumpy or too tight, add a bit of the pasta water to loosen it up. Serve in large bowls with additional Parmesan (yes, more cheese!) Enjoy!