This pasta recipe from Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos's new cookbook, Extra Virgin: Recipes and Love from our Tuscan Kitchen, is a great example of the kind of food they promote: rustic, accessible, affordable and delicious. The sauce is just silly easy, and I wanted to see how the couple handled something so simple.
It's pretty spot-on, I have to say. The whole garlic cloves infuse the sauce with mellow piquancy, and then punch you in the mouth—in a good way—when you bite into one. I love the slight heat from the chili and the otherwise unadulterated tomato flavor. It is evocative of Italy in the best, most primal way. I, who never say "when" to someone holding a cheese grater, passed on Pecorino altogether, though I had a nice, big chunk at the ready. As with anything so minimalist, the quality of the ingredients here is key: buy top-shelf pasta and canned tomatoes for this one.
Why I chose this recipe: I wanted to put my mouth where their money is, so to speak. This is a pasta that you can throw together when you don't have time to go shopping, but need to impress, celebrate, or soothe. And that's what Mazar and Corcos are all about.
What worked: I thought that I would want a greater sauce-to-pasta ratio, and I definitely thought I'd want cheese, but it really didn't need a thing.
What didn't: The instructions say to cook the garlic and chili in hot oil until fragrant, for three to five minutes. After not quite two minutes, though, mine were verging on burning, so go by color and aroma, not specified times. This particular tip will come up again in recipes later this week.
Suggested tweaks: I'm sure the pici (hand-rolled pasta often referred to as "fat spaghetti") would be lovely, but I used linguine, and it worked perfectly well with the sauce. Though pasta purists may disagree, I really think nearly any pasta shape would be fine, so use your favorite.
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 to 6 garlic cloves (1 per person!)
- 1 fresh chile, such as red serrano, sliced, or more to taste
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes (pelati), crushed by hand
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound pici or thick spaghetti
- Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
In an 8- to 12-quart pot, bring 6 quarts of salted water to a rolling boil.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the garlic and chile(s). When the garlic becomes fragrant, after 3 to 5 minutes, add the crushed tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes until reduced to a sauce. Season with salt and black pepper to taste and remove from the heat
Add the pici to the boiling water and use a wooden fork to stir the pasta so it won’t stick together. Cook until al dente. Ladle out 1/2 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta.
Add the pasta to the sauce, toss together, and cook over medium heat for 1 minute. Add pasta water as needed to make the sauce slightly loose and glossy.
Serve immediately with the basil, and make sure each bowl gets its own garlic clove.