11.14.09: dinner (home alone and tinkering with some red sauce).

Maccheroni alla chitarra with San Marzano Tomato-Basil-Red Wine Sauce

Michael left me to my own devices last weekend while he visited good friends in New Hampshire (I wanted to go, but it was not to be unfortunately), and given his reluctance to red sauce these days, I found it the ideal time to try out a recipe I had seen on Serious Eats New York a few weeks ago.  I’ve never been to Scarpetta’s (well, at least not yet) but upon seeing the final product in the post, well, I knew I would have to give it a try someday, and a rainy, wet evening following a rainy day seemed like the perfect time.  Of course, me being me, I had to switch things up a bit–but for good reason!  I swear!The original recipe calls for using mainly fresh plum tomatoes that are then blanched to remove the skin and seeded, but knowing the questionable quality of the tomato crop this summer and not wanting to use heirloom tomatoes in such an application, I turned to two cans of San Marzano tomatoes instead.  I also wanted to add some wine in as well, especially considering that we weren’t using fresh tomatoes and therefore I wanted to add some depth of flavor.  But everything else, from periodically mashing the tomatoes to infusing oil with basil, garlic and chili flakes, I followed closely in order to attempt to get the same texture.


Making Basil-Garlic-Chili Oil

Unlike our red sauce making adventures back in college, one pleasant difference with this recipe is that it doesn’t require hours and hours of simmering over the stove, which makes it a much more accessible option for those cooking on their own, but don’t mind spending a little less than an hour cooking dinner.

So without further ado, here is my take on a simple tomato sauce, with many apologies to Scott Conant and Scarpetta:

Tomato-Basil-Red Wine Sauce (adapted from Serious Eats)

Yields enough for one pound of pasta

  • 2 28oz cans San Marzano tomatoes
  • 2 TBSP plus 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup good (but not too expensive) red wine
  • 2-3 stems basil (leaves attached), plus 6-8 basil leaves sliced into a chiffonade
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp plus 1 pinch chili flakes (or more if you prefer more heat)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lb long pasta of choice (this is a good excuse to splurge on an imported brand like DeCecco)

Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise and remove seeds; reserve them in a strainer over a bowl to keep tomato water.  Using a large saucepan, heat the two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat, and when done, carefully (seriously–there will be some splatters!) move the tomatoes into the pan and season them with a pinch each of salt and red pepper flakes.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, gently start to mash them with a ricer or potato masher, and then add reserved tomato water and half of the red wine.  Cook the tomatoes for 30 minutes, intermittenly stirring the sauce and mashing the tomatoes a little more each time.  I also would add splashes of wine as I went along whenever I felt the sauce was getting a little too dry, but save some (about a quarter of a cup) for the very end.

While the tomatoes cook, use this time to infuse the oil:  using a small saucepan, combine the 1/3 cup olive oil with the basil, garlic and remaining red pepper flakes and simply bring the olive oil to a strong simmer.  This will take about 20 minutes or so to do as you want to slowly heat the pan, but keep an eye on the garlic cloves–when they are lightly browned, they are done and need to be removed.  Remove the pan from heat and let cool for a few minutes, then strain the contents into a bowl.

Of course, while the tomatoes and oil are doing their things, you’re going to want to cook your spaghetti:  bring a pot of water to boil, salt generously, and cook the pasta a minute or two less than package directions, strain, and have on standby in a colander.

Once the 30 minutes have gone, you’re going to want to add the last of the wine and then the olive oil to the tomatoes, and then add the pasta and cook for just a minute or two to finish the pasta and toss to coat.  If you’d like, you can also finish the pasta with a pat of butter (this is a common restaurant trick), but I wasn’t in the mood this time around.  Season one last time and add the remaining basil, and serve with a little Parmigiano-Reggiano, if the mood strikes.

Buon apetito!


  1. I would LOVE to cuddle up with a bowl of that on a rainy night!

  2. weili said:

    elizebeth – that looks delicious… i’m going to try the recipe!

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