Tossing noodles in some sauce is an age old tradition. Immigrants from Europe’s boot brought over recipes from the old country and remixed them to fit our ever-changing American palates. When it comes to pasta, we’ve created new traditions and expanded oldies — from the corner restaurants in Little Italy to the home kitchens across the country.
Travel around Italy and you’re going to eat some pasta, most of it more traditional than the stuff you get at home. The bones of Italian cooking culture are made of durum wheat (plus an egg yolk, salt, and water). The blood that makes it all come alive are the sauces that the pasta gets tossed in.
If you’re heading to Italy, here are a few originals to tempt you back on the gluten wagon.
PASTA AL POMODORO
Pomodoro is the simplest of dishes. It’s light and playful. This isn’t the spaghetti with ketchup Ray Liotta laments about at the end of Goodfellas. A good Pomodoro is deeper and more nuanced than that.
These days, it’s hard to imagine Italy without the tomato, but that wasn’t always the case. The fruit was first seen in Italy around 1540. It wasn’t used in cuisine until late in the 1690s. Even then, it wasn’t a cornerstone of Italian cuisine until later in the 18th century when local varieties started spreading across Italy.
The Pomodoro sauce is a simple blend of olive oil, onions, garlic, and local tomatoes simmered down into a sauce. A knob of butter is mixed in near the end to give it a velvety texture. Lastly, al dente pasta is tossed directly in the sauce to cook for a few final minutes before serving. The addition of fresh basil leaves give the whole dish a refreshing burst of aromatic flavor. And that’s it. Simple, seductive, and classic.
Much like New York style pizza, the great Italian-American tradition of the Sunday sauce (or gravy) full of meatballs, sausages, and veal shanks all simmered down in a lush red gravy started in the kitchens and back alleys of Naples. Whether you want to call it a meat sauce or gravy or ragù doesn’t matter. They’re all correct at the end of the day.