My Perfect Spaghetti al Pomodoro (with Tomato Sauce)
My perfect spaghetti al pomodoro (spaghetti with tomato sauce) has been one of my top-five meals since 1977, a.k.a. since I started cutting teeth. It’s about time I shared it, don’t you think?
We’ve included the method for finishing this dish the proper way, and it’s really worth it if you can find a few extra minutes. But we’ve also included two separate methods for dumbing down the ending, each of which is still perfect in its own way.
Pasta pomodoro and the curse of knowledge
Last week I listened to a podcast that reminded me about the “curse of knowledge,” which means essentially that once you know something, it’s nearly impossible to imagine not knowing it. This results in all kinds of vague advice and terrible teaching that the teacher thinks is perfectly good because she’s like, “Well I understood what I meant!”
I try to think about this idea pretty much every time I develop a recipe. Do people know you have to peel garlic, or not to fill a blender too high with hot soup? Me being me, I’m sure this line of thinking translates less into consistently useful content for you guys and more into a general sense of malaise for me.
Isn’t that fun? I’m fun.
Finally, a pasta pomodoro recipe
But I’m thinking of the curse of knowledge now because I realized last week that it’s resulted in my omitting this entire recipe from the blog for a full eight years.
My perfect spaghetti al pomodoro (or spaghetti with simple tomato sauce) has been one of my top five favorite meals since I cut teeth. It should have been one of the first recipes I shared with you. And yet. I guess some part of me assumed you knew.
With a curse like that, I might as well have a lightning-shaped scar on my forehead, if you know what I mean. (I’m not entirely sure *I* know what I mean, so please feel free to let me know.)
Anyway, here it is. My perfect spaghetti al pomodoro. I hope you’ll cook it enough to make up for lost time.
How to make spaghetti al pomodoro
I’ve included the method for finishing this dish the proper way, and it’s really worth it if you can find a few extra minutes. But I’ve also included two separate methods for dumbing down the ending, each of which is still perfect in its own way.
Cin cin, or “ding!” as we used to say, growing up Gratzer, when we clinked glasses at the dinner table. Enjoy your spaghetti. See you soon.
P.S. As with all the “my perfect” recipes on the blog (and you can type that phrase into the search bar to find the rest), I don’t mean to be a royal arse shouting MINE is better than YOURS. I just mean, man, this is one of those recipes where we’ve nailed it. It’s perfect for our taste buds, and we don’t tinker with it. You, of course, are free to tinker as you please.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
- 3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 28-ounce can (or 26.4-ounce tetrapack box) strained tomatoes/tomato sauce*
- 1 28-ounce can (or 26.4-ounce tetrapack box) chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 small innermost stalks celery, with leaves
- 2 tablespoons good butter
- 1 pound spaghetti
- Grated parmesan or pecorino cheese to pass at the table
- Warm the olive oil in a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven or other good-sized heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion along with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking for two minutes more.
- Pour in the tomato sauce and chopped tomatoes and sugar and stir well. Add a teaspoon of salt if your tomatoes are unsalted. Tuck in the celery stalks. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, reduce heat to a bare simmer and stir in the butter. Taste for salt.
- With 15 minutes of cooking time to go, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil, then cook spaghetti until al dente according to package directions. Scoop out and reserve half a cup of the cooking water, then drain.
- In a restaurant this dish would be finished one portion at a time by transferring some sauce to a wide skillet, bringing it to a simmer and then transferring one serving of pasta directly from the pasta pot to the frying pan with a bit of starchy cooking water still clinging to it. The chef would toss it all together while simmering for a few seconds and then plate it immediately. This technique marries the sauce and the pasta into one simple, magical dream come true. This being real life, I've found you can approximate that result by adding a serving of drained spaghetti, a ladle or two of hot sauce, and a tablespoon of the reserved cooking water to a big mixing bowl, tossing it with tongs, and then plating it. When I don't even feel like doing that, I just ladle a couple of cups of sauce into the drained pasta in the pasta pot, stir to coat, and then plate and add a little extra sauce to the top of each serving. It's all good.
- Whatever you do, serve with grated cheese to pass at the table. I also like to include freshly ground black pepper and some fruity olive oil for drizzling.
I like to use Pomi tomatoes from Italy. They're great quality tomatoes without added salt, and I like that they come in a tetrapack box.