The is an awful lot of ‘pomodoro‘ going on in Italian food. Tomatoes are critical to restaurant favourites like pizza Margherita and tagliatelle alla Bolognese. The darling tomato of Italy is the famous San Marzano, which are the only ones certified for use in proper Napoli pizzas – their provenance is fiercely protected by the impeccably dressed, psychotic, gun-toting Carabinieri.
Tomatoes, members of the nightshade family of plants, originate from Peru. They were taken back to Europe by that uniquely cruel set of nasty bastards we call the Spanish Conquistadors.
Once cultivated in the vineyards of Spain and Italy in the 1500s, the tomato was still in for a rough ride. Back then, tomatoes were considered to be poisonous. The peoples of North America confused ‘nightshade family’ with ‘deadly nightshade,’ and refused to eat them. Back in Europe, the situation was worse – arisocrats were dying after eating tomatoes. But this was because they used pewter plates, and the acid in the tomatoes would react with the pewter and draw poisonous lead into the fruit. Once pewter was swapped for china, the tomato could finally have its day.
In the days of coronavirus lockdown, we all need easy dishes that use store cupboard ingredients. It is no coincidence that supermarkets have run out of canned tomatoes and pasta. If you have some of these, then it might pay to re-invent your regular ‘tomato pasta’ dish with ideas from the version given here. In this recipe, the mother of food writer Ursula Ferrigno, keeps things simple but adds the luxury of butter to finish the sauce. Torn basil lifts it to greatness.
There are many tomato sauces for pasta … and then there is this one.
Spaghetti alla Napoletana
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 800g ripe tomatoes, chopped, or 800g canned, chopped tomatoes
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 300g spaghetti
- 1 handful fresh basil, torn
- 25g unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp Parmesan, grated
Heat the oil and add the onions. Fry gently for 5 mins. Add the tomatoes, season to taste and cook gently, covered for 20 mins.
Cook the spaghetti salted, boiling water until al dente. Drain.
Mix the sauce with the spaghetti over a low heat. Melt in the butter and add the basil. Serve with Parmesan sprinkled over.
Common additions to sauces like this are Worcestershire Sauce and sugar. These are fine, but we really urge you to try the butter finish of the Ferrigno recipe.