My agenda for August blog recipes was to focus on flavorful pairs, and one of the most common this time of year is tomato-basil. Yet as I was deciding on a recipe, I realized that very rarely does this notorious pair appear without a prominent third partner — garlic — to create possibly the world’s most popular flavor trio.
With “popular” on my mind, I selected a frequently served family supper — only the chosen recipe transforms a common, ho-hum meal into a fabulous family feast or a grand gourmet dinner for guests.
My selection for this flavorful trifecta includes 6 cloves of garlic, 18 basil leaves, and 48 cherry tomatoes — the odds are, it’s a winner!
Since 1994, when she opened her restaurant, Rialto, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, chef Jody Adams has been winning awards for her interpretation of the classic regional foods of the Mediterranean. Adams wrote In the Hands of a Chef: Cooking with Jody Adams of Rialto Restaurant with her husband, Ken Rivard. This is one of her favorite dishes — full of bright flavors and rich tastes, yet unfussy in conception. If you do not like arugula, substitute baby spinach leaves. The slow roasting both caramelizes and concentrates the flavor of the tomatoes, thus enhancing more ordinary commercial varieties. If you start with a full-flavored cherry, such as Peacevine or Matt’s Wild Cherry, all the better.
Spaghetti with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, Basil, and Parmesan Cheese
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for roasting
- 1 large white onion, cut into ½-inch dice
- 6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 18 basil leaves
- 1⁄8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 48 ripe cherry, grape, or sweet tomatoes, rinsed and dried
- 3 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 2 cups lightly packed arugula
- ¼ cup basil, cut into thin ribbons
- ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat the oven to 250°F.
- Heat ¼ cup of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat; add the basil leaves and red pepper, and stir well.
- Toss the tomatoes with 1 teaspoon of the salt and the 2 teaspoons of sugar, and place them in a roasting pan with sides. The pan should be large enough to hold the tomatoes in a single layer. If they won’t fit, use an additional roasting pan and more oil. Spoon the onion mixture over the tomatoes. Add enough oil to come halfway up the tomatoes. Roast until the tomatoes are tender but not falling apart, about 3 hours. Stir once, gently, during the roasting. (You can roast the tomatoes up to 6 hours ahead of time, if convenient.)
- To finish the dish, bring a large pot of water with the remaining 2 teaspoons salt to a boil. Add the spaghetti, and stir constantly until the water returns to a boil. Cook until the pasta is al dente, about 7 minutes.
- Meanwhile, if the tomato/onion/oil mixture is cool, heat it in a large, shallow saucepan over low heat. When the pasta is done, drain it, and transfer to the saucepan with the tomatoes. Add the arugula. Toss well. Add the basil, and toss again.
- Serve in a warm shallow bowl with Parmesan sprinkled over the top.
Recipe excerpted from Tomato: A Fresh-from-the-Vine Cookbook © 2010, 2004 by Lawrence Davis-Hollander. Tomato engraving from The LuEster T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. Garlic engraving from antique seed catalogs courtesy of the author. Basil illustration by Charles Joslin. All rights reserved.