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The best tomato sauce often is the least cooked

The ripest tomatoes will yield best pomodoro. (Matthew Mead~AP)

The ripest tomatoes will yield the best pomodoro. (Matthew Mead~AP)

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◆ Don’t stir or toss the pasta with tongs as they tend to break the noodles.

◆ If the noodles are not cooked enough to your liking, simply add a little more pasta water and cook longer in the pan with the sauce.

◆ If you can’t find kamut spaghetti, use any shape of kamut pasta. And if you can’t find kamut pasta, brown rice or whole wheat varieties are fine.

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:50AM

You say tomato, they say pomodoro.

And when they say it, they mean it. That’s because the Italians are champions of simple, classically delicious ways of using fresh tomatoes. And they should be; they’ve been cultivating them for hundreds of years.

One of the many basic ways they prepare garden-fresh tomatoes is in a pomodoro sauce made with basil and garlic tossed with pasta. This pasta is just that, noodles and tomatoes, a dish that embodies the core philosophy of Italian food — letting a few perfectly ripe ingredients shine.

I recently returned from a cooking expedition to Italy where I learned how to prepare pomodoro sauce from those who know best — Italian mothers and grandmothers.

One particular day sticks in my mind. I was getting ready to do what I always do — smash garlic cloves by laying the flat side of a knife on top of them and lightly whacking it with the palm of my hand. As I got ready to give the garlic a good slam, the Italian mama cooking with me, named Lucia, screamed “No!” so loud you could hear her in France.

Then she explained that the garlic for the pomodoro sauce had to be sliced. I didn’t know why until I tasted her pomodoro sauce. It blew me away. The sliced garlic, sauteed in extra virgin olive oil to almost dark brown but not burned, imparted a taste explosion in my mouth that you just can’t get from the usual ways of preparing and tossing garlic into a dish.

So when you make this recipe, do not chop the garlic. Do not press the garlic. Do not smash or whack the garlic. And by all means, do not use that pre-diced stuff in the jar. If you do any of the above, you have performed an illegal operation. Go to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

Do take the time to find fresh tomatoes, ripe ones, like from the vine. I know they may be only the stuff of lore in and around your community, but they do exist. And now is the perfect time to go out and search for them.

Any variety of tomato works in this recipe so long as they are very ripe. I prefer small tomatoes, such as cherry, pear or grape, because they can be tossed right in, skins and all. For larger tomatoes, peel them first, then chop them. This recipe takes no more than 30 minutes to get on the table. The best sauce, I discovered after years of sauce-making, is the least cooked.


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