Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan, who immigrated to New York in the 1950s, is credited with introducing a broad swath of English-speaking audiences to traditional Italian cuisine. Her most famous recipe, the one people likely bring up the most in conjunction with her name, is also one of her simplest: her butter-packed tomato sauce.
The three-ingredient sauce is made with canned or fresh tomatoes, onion and butter, which are then simmered for at least an hour as it gets increasingly velvety. In my home, it's a summertime staple, especially once the "good tomatoes" have popped.
Occasionally, I want something that feels a little fresher, especially if the temperatures inside and outside of my kitchen are bordering on oppressive. That's where this no-cook pasta sauce recipe comes into play. Like other no-cook sauces, it relies on fresh-cut, juicy tomatoes to do the bulk of the work. This recipe, however, gives a nod to Hazan by incorporating grated, iced-cold butter into the mix.
When combined with warm pasta, and more importantly, starchy pasta water, the butter melts over the tomatoes and their juices, which gives the sauce a richness that is sometimes tough to achieve without ample time over heat.
If you're worried about this dish being "buttered noodles studded with fresh-cut tomatoes" (which, if we're being honest, doesn't sound too bad), have no fear. The addition of sun-dried tomato paste pushes it into fully-sauced pasta territory.
Recipe: Buttery No-Cook Pasta Sauce
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste (See Cook's Notes)
- 4 tablespoons very cold, salted butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Reserved hot pasta water
- Red pepper flakes
- Torn basil
- Give the cherry tomatoes a rough chop and place them in a large mixing bowl. Salt them generously and allow them to rest for about 30 minutes. This will encourage the tomatoes to release their juices, which will make for a better final sauce.
- Cook the pasta according to the package instructions; meanwhile, grate the very cold, salted butter over the tomatoes. Give it a gentle mix, then add the sun-dried tomato paste. If you're adding red pepper flakes or basil — both of which are optional — now would be the perfect time to do so.
- Drain the pasta, reserving at least a cup of hot pasta water. Add the pasta to the mixing bowl with the tomatoes and vigorously combine. (I like to use tongs here, but a regular old fork situation will also do the job.)
- The butter should have melted some and the tomato juice and paste should be clinging to the pasta. To complete the process, add the reserved pasta water a tablespoon at a time until the sauce reaches a consistency that you like. Taste again (tomato sauce almost always needs more salt than you initially think) and season before serving.
You can use regular tomato paste here, too, if that's what you have on hand. Personally, I'm partial to the richness that the sun-dried tomato paste adds to this simple sauce.
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