But I hate turning on the stove during a heat wave.
However, I feel that I can finally share this secret: I never, ever cook it in a huge pot of water, as instructed by the package directions and famous Italian cooks. I've always considered it a huge waste of good water I must pay for-- either from the tap or from a bottle. And, I'm impatient. I hate waiting for 6 quarts of water to come to a boil. That's why, for many, many years, I've been cooking spaghetti, linguine, elbows, bow ties--you name the shape--in no more than 2 quarts of water. As far as I am concerned, the pasta comes out just fine. Delicious, in fact. It may not be your Italian grandmother's perfect noodle, but for me and my house--and a well respected food science guy**-- it works. (See link to article, below)
And right now, with one heat wave following another, I continue to enjoy my pasta.
I cook up to half a pound in a 3 quart saucepan with a tight fitting lid--and here's the very important other half of the secret: During the summer months, I turn the heat way down low, cover the pot with a lid, and let it simmer. This way, I can make pasta salads--or this fabulous tomato dish--without steaming up the whole house. During the height of tomato season, I can toss together--in less than half an hour--this fabulous, no-cook (well, almost no-cook) fresh tomato "sauce". I should also add that I use Barilla brand pasta, because it is so forgiving. It does not easily over cook and won't turn mushy if I need/want to reheat it the day after.
When tomatoes are at their best--late July through September (hopefully), all that's needed is a touch of salt, some minced herbs, and a bit of cheese combined with some of the pasta water leftover from cooking your favorite noodles. And...just to heighten the joy, I toss in some cubed avocado when I can get them on sale. This "sauce" is wonderful over linguine, thin spaghetti, or the cute little ribbed tubes called "Pipettes" (photo, above).
While the pasta is cooking, prep the tomatoes, herbs and cheese, but don't begin warming the garlic until the pasta has finished cooking or there are just 2-3 minutes left on the timer. And save the pasta cooking water. It's a very yummy, important ingredient.
- 1 medium to large tomato per person, or a larger handful of cherry tomatoes per person
- 1 small garlic clove for every 1-2 tomatoes (or to your taste)
- 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
- Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
- Splash of red wine vinegar*
- 1-2 soup ladles of pasta cooking water
- Your favorite fresh herbs: basil, parsley, tarragon, dill--these are my favorites and I often used a combination.
- 4 ounces of fresh mozzarella per person, cut or torn into bite-size chunks
- Grated Parmesan
- When they are on sale, and ripe, add some cubed avocado.
When the pasta has just 2-3 minutes left to cook:
Chop tomatoes into chunks/cut cherry tomatoes in half.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat. Peel the garlic cloves and press through a garlic press or mince very fine and add to the warm oil. Bring to a very gentle sizzle for about 30 seconds to 1 minute--do not let it over cook. Add the tomatoes and remove from the burner immediately. You do not want to cook the tomatoes--just warm them through. Add salt & pepper, herbs, mozzarella, and red wine vinegar.
Now, toss gently.
When the pasta has finished cooking, drain over a bowl so as to save the cooking water. This lovely liquid is an essential ingredient to the sauce. Add 2 ladles of it to the tomato mixture. Toss gently and then give it a taste. Tweak, as your palate dictates, with a bit more vinegar, herbs, salt & pepper, or pasta water.
Ladle the sauce over the cooked pasta and serve with some grated Parmesan.
*A nice red wine vinegar is a beautiful thing...but, have you noticed that the rampant popularity of balsamic vinegar has all but pushed good red wine vinegars off the market shelves? As much as I enjoy balsamic vinegar, I don't always want the added sweetness, and prefer a quality red wine vinegar for this dish. Carapelli is my favorite supermarket brand, and Colavita is good, too.
**I was delighted when Harold McGee, the noted food science writer, validated this method for cooking pasta in his February 24, 2009 column for the NYTimes.