If you think about it, tomato and garlic pasta should be a snap. There are very few ingredients and you essentially just throw them all together and -- presto -- dinner.
This is easy cooking.
But I am going to come straight out with the truth -- I have screwed up this dish more times than I care to mention.
I know how to cook! What am I doing?
Perhaps it is a fear of using too much olive oil that trips me up.
You do not want to hold back. The noodles, preferably long skinny ones like cappellini, should be well slicked with oil and juices. You're looking for optimal slipperiness.
I got tired of expecting a gorgeous dinner and ending up with so-so spaghetti. So now I always do a quick review of Alice Water's recipe in Chez Panisse Vegetables, before I start.
If you have perfectly ripe tomatoes (And you should now, because it is peak season!) and a delicious fruity olive oil, her recipe guarantees success.
Thanks to Eric, my former boyfriend, brilliant restauranteur and fantastic cook, I have been using olive oil from -- wait for it -- Costco. The Kirkland brand no less. This extra virgin olive oil is a fruity and full bodied oil made from olives grown on the hills of Tuscany.
Look for a bottle that says "Toscano" and that states the specific harvest the olives are from. Right now the November/December 2009 oil is on offer.
The olive oil is inexpensive enough to cook with, at about $12 a bottle, and delicious enough to use for salads and to finish dishes. We go through the stuff like it's going out of style.
There are plenty of other pricier and fancier oils out there, but right now we are very content with the Kirkland liquid gold.
When making tomato and garlic pasta, be sure to have your mise en place ready to go next to stove. This is quick work and there is no time for fooling around. One minute of hesitation, and you'll end up with burnt garlic and be forced to start all over again.
While the pasta water is coming to a boil, the ingredients should be chopped. While the pasta is cooking, the sauce should be made. If you are efficient in the kitchen and cooking very thin pasta, dinner can be ready in just 15 minutes.
Tomato and garlic pasta is the quintessential dish of summer. It is the purest appreciation of what the farmer's market or your garden has to offer. Pick a few tomatoes, pluck a handful of basil, chop a few plump cloves of garlic and you are moments away from a divine dinner.
Alice Water's Summer Tomato & Garlic Pasta
3 ripe tomatoes (or more if they're little guys)
3 cloves garlic
1 small bunch parsley or basil (I used both this time and was very pleased with the results.)
1/2 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 pound pasta (Cappellini is my favorite for this application.)
Salt and pepper
Put a big pot of water on to boil.
Cut out the stems from and then dice the tomatoes. Chop the garlic. Chop the herbs. Have everything ready to go next to the stove.
Cook the pasta in the salted boiling water.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, until hot but not smoking. Add the garlic and stir. Immediately add the tomatoes, so the garlic does not brown at all. Stir and then add the chopped herbs. Cook for a few minutes, until the tomatoes are warmed through. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss with the cooked and drained pasta.