Spaghetti with cherry tomatoes is my favorite pasta dish for when I don’t feel like cooking (because it’s hot or I have no time or I’m just lazy). It’s critical to use the best olive oil you can find, plus fresh basil (grow your own if you can) and for the cheese, either real Parmigiano Reggiano or bufala mozzarella. If you are keen on using mozzarella but cannot find the buffalo milk version, use cow milk mozzarella as a desperate substitute.
About olive oil
For really good olive oil, I use extra-virgin oil from Frantoio di Santa TÃ©a (Tuscany) or from Castelas AOC de la VallÃ©e des Baux de Provence. The Castelas oil won the Concours GÃ©nÃ©ral Agricole 2006 MÃ©daille d’Or from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in France. It is nearly as pungent as the Frantoio oil, which is still my favorite. It is typical of Tuscan extra-virgin olive oils – bitter and strong – so perfect for fresh pasta dishes, salads and bruschettas.
Larousse Gastronomique on olive oil:
There are two main grades of olive oil: extra-virgin and olive oil. Extra-virgin olive oil is unique among the cooking oils in that it is made directly from the fresh juice of the olive fruit . . . Extra virgin olive oil is virgin olive oil with less than 1% acidity . . . Olive oil varies in flavour from light and delicate to strong and pungent; it may be sweet, bitter or peppery. In general, the olive oils of Spain and France tend to be less aggressive than those of Greece or central Italy. However, northern Italy, Sicily and Crete may also produce lighter styles of oil.
A word on Parmesan cheese
Parmigiano Reggiano is the only kind of “parmesan” cheese you should use on pasta dishes. Everything else that calls itself parmesan is a betrayal. Larousse Gastronomique on parmigiano reggiano:
The true DOP Parmesan cheese (parmigiano reggiano) is manufactured from 15 April to 11 November in the province of Parma and also in the provinces of Bologna and Mantova . . . It takes at least one year to mature to quality as vecchio (old); the best, called stravecchio (very old), takes more than three years . . . It is always preferable to grate the cheese just before using it.
What about wine?
Andy Abramson, wine guru and tech expert who posts on this blog, recommends a Chianti, not a Riserva, but a regular, fresh, youthful one, perhaps a Morellino di Scansano, which is a great value. If you want something more rustic, try a red from Sardegna, such as the very nice and interesting CANNONAU DI SARDEGNA.
- lots of olive oil
- four cloves of crushed garlic
- cherry tomatoes (as many as you want) chopped in half
- basil leaves (tear the leaves)
- small hot red chili pepper cut in half
- grated parmigiano reggiano cheese; or mozzarella cut into tiny blocks
- salt and pepper
- fresh spaghetti (self-made or store bought)
In a large deep bowl, pour olive oil (enough to generously coat the pasta) and throw in the crushed garlic. Using a fork, press the garlic vigorously into the oil to make the oil very garlicky. Take out the garlic. Throw in the cherry tomatoes and the red pepper, followed by 3/4 of the basil leaves, and if using mozzarella, the tiny blocks of cheese. Let stand for 30 minutes to one hour.
Cook the fresh pasta in a large pan filled with boiling water. Note that most fresh pastas cook very quickly (4 minutes). When the pasta is cooked, drain it and immediately throw it into the bowl with the olive oil mixture. Mix well.
Sprinkle the grated parmigiano (if you are not using mozzarella) plus salt and pepper to taste. Add the remaining torn basil leaves on top.
To find out how to make fresh pasta, go to the Fresh Pasta recipe.