It's excruciating to wait for tomatoes to come into season. So when I found ripe little Sun Golds looking beautiful at the market, I wanted to celebrate. I dreamt of a dish that would highlight the unique character of the little tomatoes, putting them at the center of the plate. Of course, that recipe already exists. Mario Batali's Spaghetti al Pomodoro recipe nails the simplistic route, cooking the tomatoes until they burst open and unleash their juices, creating a seductively sweet and acidic sauce. Just writing that sentence makes my heart skip a beat. But could I take the premise of the recipe and twist it a bit?
At first, adding a vegetable sounded like the way to go. But no matter what I thought about using, I realized it would play second fiddle to the dynamic Sun Golds. How could anything else compete? If I added an ingredient, I wanted it to be essential, not just something to bulk the dish out. Instead of a vegetable, I hit upon the idea of adding texture. That led me to one of the great unsung pasta additions of the world: bread crumbs. Stale bread can be transformed into golden crunchy nuggets, helping to enliven each bite.
I also sprinkled in a bit of red pepper flake, just to give the sauce a faint heat. But mostly, this is still about celebrating in-season Sun Golds, which is the way it should be.
- Yield:serves 4
- Active time: 30 minutes
- Total time:30 minutes
- 2 slices crusty bread, torn into small pieces
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 16 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 pints Sun Gold cherry tomatoes or other small cherry tomatoes, whole
- 1 pound small shaped pasta (I used trofie)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, add bread pieces to a food processor, and process until fine crumbs are formed, about 10 seconds. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 10-inch stainless steel skillet over medium until shimmering. Add crumbs and stir until evenly coated in the oil. Cook, stirring often, until breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Toss with a quarter of the sliced basil and season with salt and pepper.
Wipe out skillet. Heat butter and remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until butter is melted. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook until garlic is lightly browned, about 1 minute. Raise heat to medium-high, and add tomatoes and half the shredded basil. Stir well. Cook until all the tomatoes have burst open, and a light sauce begins to form, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Cook pasta to al dente according to the directions on the packaging. Reserve a 1/4 cup of pasta water, and then drain in the colander. Add pasta to the skillet with tomatoes and toss well. Turn heat to high, pour in half of the reserved pasta water, and cook until sauce is thick. If too dry, add more of the pasta water.
Serve pasta with a sprinkling of breadcrumbs and the remaining basil.