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Simplest Fresh Tomato Sauce

Tomato Sauce Spaghetti

Cooking in China has its limitations.  Sometimes you don’t have a can of tomato sauce in the pantry, or even a can of diced tomatoes.  And you can’t run to the grocery store to get one, because the nearest store that sells tomato sauce is an hour away.  I have such a hard life.

But don’t worry!  Camilla is here to save the day with her amazing, creative, and dexterous cooking resources – tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes!  A revelation!

Okay, excuse my hyperbole.  But honestly, until I lived in China, I didn’t discover the beauty that is a simple fresh tomato sauce, where the flavors of the garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, and fresh basil shine through in all their glory.  Such elegant simplicity.  Such fresh flavor!

Sometimes we don’t appreciate the simple things of life until life strips away our modern (in)conveniences and forces us to enjoy pasta sauce made with fresh tomatoes.

Here we go…

Tomato Sauce Spaghetti top

The above photo is one of the few photographs on the site taken by me (the rest are by Chris).  I’m inordinately proud of it.  It was a total fluke, but I think it turned out well, don’t you?

Simplest Fresh Tomato Sauce
Serves 2

½ pound spaghetti
1 ½ pounds fresh ripe round tomatoes, or about 6 or 7 Roma tomatoes, washed
3 tbsp olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp tomato paste (optional)
Fresh basil leaves, to taste, chopped

Step 1: Peel the tomatoes and prepare pasta

Bring a large pot of water to the boil.  Score a shallow “X” in the bottom of each tomato.  When water is boiling, blanch the tomatoes for 20 seconds and remove from the water.

Use the boiling water to prepare the spaghetti according to package directions.  Remember to salt the water – if you don’t add enough salt, the spaghetti will taste inadequately seasoned, no matter how salty the sauce is.  How much salt you add will depend on how much water you’re using.  More water will prevent sticking.  Drain the pasta when it is done, reserving ½ cup of pasta water.

When tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel each tomato by pulling the skin off where you scored the X.  The skin should come off easily.  Chop the tomatoes roughly.

Peeling Tomatoes

Step 2: Make the sauce

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a non-reactive skillet.  Add the minced garlic, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring, until garlic is softened and pale golden (do not let it brown).  Add the chopped tomatoes, and stir to coat with oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover skillet and cook, stirring often, until tomatoes disintegrate and release their juice.  Uncover, add teaspoon sugar, and cook, stirring, until sauce is thickened slightly.  Add tomato paste, if using.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Stir in chopped fresh basil leaves.

Add drained pasta directly to skillet and toss with sauce.  If sauce is dry, add a splash of reserved pasta water to moisten.

You can serve this with grated Parmesan, but I love the fresh and simple flavors all on their own, with a glass of dry white wine.  Umm!  I could eat like this every day.

8 comments to Simplest Fresh Tomato Sauce

  • Nathan

    omg… peel the tomatoes. why did i never think of that? genius

  • Camilla

    I know right? I can’t remember where I learned that trick. I think it was America’s Test Kitchen.

  • Nick

    Wow that looks really good, gonna have to give it a try (Or Lali will I mean). Nice picture too.

  • Camilla

    thanks nick! it’s really good – you guys will love it!

  • Nicole

    I came across this recipe yesterday and made it last night for dinner. It was delicious!! So simple to make and it had great, fresh flavors. Thanks for sharing!

  • Marie

    This recipe is fabulous! The night I made this I was looking for a more hearty meal, so I chopped up some red and yellow bell peppers and cooked those with the sauce- I also love a good spicy dish, so I threw in some crushed red pepper flakes… it was DELICIOUS. Great find!!

  • I’ve been living in Shanghai for 2 years and have been learning new ways to prepare pasta without canned/jarred pasta sauce, because it’s not always readily available, as you noted. Your recipe sounds great and I’ve put it on my to-try list. Problem is, good quality tomatoes are hard to come by here (did you notice that in Xiamen?). Secondly, from personal experience, if a jar of pasta sauce is an hour’s commute away, fresh basil is usually an hour and a half… unless there’s a secret in Chinese veggie markets I don’t know about?

    Great site, btw — just came across it tonight. Great photos and I love all your dinnerware!

  • Camilla

    We didn’t have a problem finding good tomatoes, even in Shanghai (we lived there before we moved to Xiamen). We brought basil seeds from home, and grew our own basil plants in the window, but I’m sure you can use dried basil as well (you can sometimes find that at Carrefour or other large markets).