31 August 2008

My No-Fail Meal: Pasta Pomodoro and Green Salad

Every cook has a no-fail meal: comfort food we're really confident cooking anytime. I first started cooking at age 7, while living in Rome. Hence, pasta will always be my comfort zone. My menu is a green leaf and garlic salad with homemade pasta pomodoro. Buon Appettito!


- 1 head of romaine or red leaf lettuce (washed, dried, torn into bite-size pieces)
- 1 garlic clove
- sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 Tb EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)
- 1/2 C. balsamic vinegar

My mom taught me how to make the ultimate salad, and its greatness rests on the specific way you dress it. She claims to have been instructed by an Italian housewife, who set down in no uncertain terms these mandatory steps:

1. Use a wooden bowl. It is unrivaled for capturing and transferring flavors, particularly garlic. Take a large clove of garlic, and crush it under the handle of your knife. This makes the skin very easy to pull off, and eliminates the need to mince the garlic. Mash the garlic into the bottom of the bowl, swirling its guts all across the wood to allow the bowl to soak up its flavor.

2. Put all your lettuce into the bowl. The two varieties I specified are my favorite, although you can certainly use arugula, baby greens, or any mixture of your favorites.

3. Drizzle the great-quality EVOO over the top, and toss the salad so that every leaf is coated. You may need to add more, based on the size of your salad. Just keep in mind you want it very lightly coated, not drenched.

4. Next add a good few pinches of sea salt, and toss the salad again.

5. Now you drench the salad in balsamic vinegar, and once again toss the entire salad, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate the pieces of garlic. Finish with some freshly ground black pepper.

I guarantee this is the biggest punch of flavor you will ever taste, especially from a salad! When I have a stuffy nose, I like to add a teaspoon or two of dijon mustard at the end. It clears the sinuses like nothing else.


- 1 lb. spaghetti (Barilla's great)
- 42 oz. whole peeled plum tomatoes in a can (look for the Italian "San Marzano" variety)
- 1 small yellow onion, diced very finely
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 4 tiny dried pepperroncino, crushed (or a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes)
- 2 Tb EVOO
- salt & pepper to taste
- a large handful of fresh basil, chopped coarsely
- parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated on top of pasta just before eating.

Put on a very big pot of water to boil. In the meantime, in a 14-inch frying pan, make your soffritto by heating the EVOO and sautéing the onion, garlic, and pepperoncino, seasoned with salt & pepper, over medium-low heat until onion is translucent, and the entire mixture starts to gain a golden color. Only after this point do you add the tomatoes. Turn up the heat to medium, and crush the tomatoes with a potato masher in the pan.

At this point, taste the tomato sauce for seasoning. It usually needs another teaspoon or two of salt and some more pepper. Let the sauce simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. Only stir periodically.

By this time, the pasta water should be boiling. Salt liberally - it should taste like sea water! Add the spaghetti and boil for 3-4 minutes. Why so little? Because the trick is to finish off the pasta in the sauce! After 4 minutes MAXIMUM, use tongs to transfer the still-very hard pasta to the bubbling tomato sauce. Ladle out about 1/2 c. of the pasta water and add it to the tomato sauce. Keep stirring the pasta around the sauce, letting it finish cooking. As soon as the pasta is al dente (meaning it has a good bite in the texture - not mushy at all), turn off the heat and stir in the basil. When you transfer the pasta to a serving bowl and let it sit for 5 minutes, you will be amazed how the quite liquid sauce congeals into the perfect consistency.

Top each bowl with a bit of basil, parmesan, and black pepper



Nik said...

Just a little comment on "should taste like sea water": Pure (Mediterranean) sea water is too salty for cooking pasta (as we found out on a boat trip where we forgot to buy salt). I would suggest mixing one part sea water and three parts fresh water (2:3 if we are talking about the less salty north Atlantic).

Moon said...

Thank you for the wonderful recipes! The salad was delicious and the pasta went perfectly with the salad! (yes..the salad was front and center at my dinner table, haha!)
I also greatly appreciate informing your readers the water should taste like salt water. For those who have been to the Mediterranean, like Nik and myself, and those who haven't the message is clear and needs no further clarification.
Excellent job, thank you so much!

The Girls Who Ate Everything said...

I'm very glad you liked it! The salad's usually the first gone on my table too. Nik is wonderful to keep me honest in my salting instructions. Love the idea of spending days at sea, cooking pasta.

Note on the pomodoro sauce: I've found that the garlic is redundant, and use only a medium-size yellow onion these days in the soffritto.