Some of my favorite pasta sauces are the ones you don’t have to cook, like pesto. Who doesn’t love that fragrant blend of basil, garlic and pine nuts?
But as someone with a pasta addiction, I’ve traveled far beyond that Genoese invention in my search for sauces that don’t require heat. I found the mother lode in southern Italy—Campania, Puglia, Sicily and Calabria—where the tomatoes are sublime and summer weather is often too steamy to cook.
This week, with locally grown tomatoes about to flood the Napa Farmers Market, is a good time to remind myself of these no-cook sauces. They’re only worth making with tomatoes that have that concentrated, vine-ripened taste. Here are a few ideas, plus a detailed recipe, to get you thinking about how to make your own one-bowl sauces. I prefer a long shape, such as spaghetti or linguine, with these sauces but any shape will work.
— Blanch, peel, core, halve and slice tomatoes thinly. Put them in a large bowl with their juices and add a fistful of baby arugula (or chopped adult arugula), sliced avocado, minced garlic, extra virgin olive oil, a splash of white wine vinegar, a pinch of hot pepper flakes if you like them, and salt to taste. Toss gently and let stand only as long as it takes to cook the pasta. Add the drained hot pasta to the cool sauce, toss and serve.
— For an alternative, replace the avocado in the sauce above with generous shavings of ricotta salata and omit the vinegar.
— Blanch, peel, core, halve and slice tomatoes thinly. Put them in a large bowl with their juices. Add extra virgin olive oil and any or all of the following: finely minced anchovies, minced capers, minced fresh chiles or oil-packed Calabrian chiles, or coarsely chopped pitted black olives such as Kalamatas. Add salt to taste and some crumbled dried oregano or a handful of torn basil.
— Blanch, peel, core, halve and slice tomatoes thinly. Put them in a large bowl with their juices. Add extra virgin olive oil, crumbled Greek or French feta, sliced red onion, chopped pitted black olives and torn fresh basil. Season with salt.
Feel free to mix tomato varieties or to make any of these sauces with halved cherry tomatoes. And in these fresh sauces, a fine extra virgin olive oil (you can find some at the market) is worth every penny.
Pasta with Tomato and Almond Pesto
Penne “Orchidée delle Eolie”
From “Four Seasons Pasta” by Janet Fletcher.
Visiting Lipari, the Aeolian island off the coast of Sicily, my husband, Doug, and I tried the strategy of seeking out the busiest restaurant for our lunch. To our surprise, all the simple trattorias in the heart of Lipari town were virtually empty.
Where was everybody? We finally found a bustling dining room at Filippino, a nearly century-old hilltop restaurant that I had mistakenly thought was a tourist trap. The pleasant setting does indeed draw tourists, but the cooking is excellent.
Chef Lucio Bernardi gave me the recipe for the dish I ordered, which was named for one of its chief ingredients: capers, the “orchids” of the Aeolian islands. A blend of uncooked tomatoes, almonds, anchovies, capers and herbs, it resembles the famous tomato pesto of Trapani, another Sicilian waterfront town.
3 tablespoons skinless almonds
1 pound tomatoes, halved and seeded (no need to peel)
1/4 cup salt-packed capers, well rinsed
4 anchovy fillets
2 cloves garlic
20 fresh basil leaves
5 fresh mint leaves
1 oil-packed Calabrian chiles or a pinch of hot pepper flakes
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano
Kosher or sea salt
1 pound penne rigate or fusilli
Pulse the almonds in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the tomatoes, capers, anchovies, garlic, basil, mint and chile and puree until smooth. With the machine running, add the olive oil gradually.
Transfer the sauce to a bowl and stir in the cheese. Season to taste with salt.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Set aside 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain. Put the pasta in a serving bowl and add as much of the sauce as you like—you may not need it all. Toss well, moistening with some of the reserved pasta water as needed. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6
Coming up at the Napa Farmers Market: On Saturday, Sept. 3, bring your youngsters to the market to make a seed mosaic. Seeds grow, but they are art, too. This project is intended for kids of all ages and artistic abilities who will learn to sort, arrange and glue seeds to create unique crafts.