You're at a party, you meet a guy, and you start chatting. You can't help but notice a certain passion in his voice, and suddenly, as he opens up, you start to think this is… a special moment. You lose him in the crowd, time and drinks go by, but finally you see him again. And there he is, telling the same story to someone else.
I'm that guy, and I'm talking about tomatoes.
Not just any tomatoes, but the greatest five-minute tomato pasta on earth. And yes, to all eight of my dear longtime readers, today represents the fourth time I've written about it. (Once, hilariously if I may say so, for Salon; once years before that for Gourmet; and once for the Financial Times, so long ago that the Internet forgot about it.) I’m sorry if that makes me a kind of food-writing lothario—and almost certainly journalistically suspect—but I can't help it. Because when one of your favorite recipes, one of your absolute favorite things in the world to eat, only comes around for a couple of months every year, your first plate of the season feels like a discovery every time.
You can use the recipe below, but the dish basically goes like this: You chop up the juiciest, sweetest, ringing-in-the-corners-of-your-mouthiest tomatoes you can find. You salt them fabulously, then add olive oil, a handful of greens on top, some thin slices of onion. You pile on hot pasta, shave on parmesan, and wait for the two longest minutes of the year. You stir, and boom—instant happy.
The tomatoes release their sugary, tart juice, the olive oil emulsifies in for rich, slippery body, the onion gives a little push, and the cheese lends this very young, very fresh dish the gravity of age. The flavors swirl as you slurp it all up, bouncing from bright and clean to deep and savory, and once all the pasta’s gone, you’ll still have a nice little scoop of the best tomato salad you’ve ever had sitting in the bowl.
All that for five minutes of work. Well, five minutes, and a whole year of waiting for tomato season to come back.
Summer Tomato Pasta
Serves 2-4, depending on how much you like the sound of slurping
The tomatoes, of course, are the point of this dish. If you have seriously sweet, ripe, juicy tomatoes, smelling as good as girls before the prom, they’re going to do all the work for you. But if your tomatoes aren’t fantastic, well, to be honest, I’d suggest finding a different recipe for dinner.
2 ½ pounds of the ripest tomatoes you can find (a mix of varieties is really nice)
2 handfuls of tender young arugula or flavorful greens of your choice (about 2 loose cups, but whatever)
Scant ¼ cup shaved red onion or shallot, as thin as you can cut it
1 pound spaghetti or linguine
Extra-virgin olive oil, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Red wine vinegar, to taste (optional)
Parmigiano cheese, to taste
- Cut the tomatoes into ½-inch pieces or so, and place, with all their juices, in a large bowl. (Big enough to fit everything in the recipe, plus with lots of room to stir.) Season them generously with salt and pepper, and a millionaire’s splash or two of the nicest olive oil you have. Stir together, and give it a taste. If everything is sweet and lovely but could use just a little more brightness, splash in a little vinegar, too.
- Bring a gallon of water to a boil, and add enough salt so that it tastes almost like the sea. Add the pasta and stir.
- While the pasta is cooking, lay the greens on top of the tomatoes, and then the onion or shallot slices. Try to arrange them so that they’re in one even layer, so that when you pile the pasta on, the heat will take the raw edge off the onion, and gently wilt the greens underneath. Ingenious, no?
- When the pasta is cooked to a perfect al dente, drain it and dump it in the bowl. Now wait! Don’t touch it for two minutes. While you’re waiting, you can grate on the cheese, or, if you really want to get sexy, shave it on in long, thin ribbons that will melt into chewy strands. After two minutes, get in there and give it all a serious stir; the starch from the pasta actually helps to emulsify the oil into the tomato juices, creating a sauce. Taste it, adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, olive oil, or vinegar, and serve right away. You’ve waited long enough!