When Serious Eats founder Ed Levine first tasted Scott Conant's spaghetti with tomato and basil at Scarpetta, it was love at first bite. And he was hardly the only diner so enamored. While Scott Conant's trattoria has been widely acclaimed for its sophisticated Italian fare—black maccheroni with sea urchin, roasted capretto—it is the simplest of dishes that has become his trademark. No flashy technique, hard-to-find spices, or kitchen wizardry required.
- 3 ounces spaghetti, high-quality dried or fresh
- 6 ounces tomato sauce
- 4 large leaves of basil
- 1/2 tablespoon butter, unsalted
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- For the Tomato Sauce:
- 8 ripe plum tomatoes
- 1/4 of a can San Marzano tomatoes
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Pinch of red chili flakes
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 6 cloves garlic, whole
- 2 stems of basil, leaves on
- Note: Vary the ratio of canned to fresh tomatoes according to the season. If fresh, flavorful tomatoes are available, use all fresh; if tomatoes lack some flavor, supplement with canned.
Place a large pot of water on the stove. Heavily season with salt, until it tastes as salty as a broth would. Bring to a boil.
Roll basil leaves into a cylinder and thinly cut lengthwise into a chiffonade. Set aside.
Cook spaghetti in the water and remove when it is just shy of al dente—depending on the pasta, 3 minutes for fresh, 10 minutes for dried.
While pasta is cooking, place sauce into a sauté pan and heat slowly. Allow sauce to reduce slightly. Add pasta to sauté pan along with a bit of pasta water, to add starch and seasoning.
Add pasta to sauce, and allow to finish cooking, over medium-high heat. Sauce should coat pasta and look cohesive. When you shake the pan, sauce and pasta should move together.
Remove from heat and add basil, cheese, butter, and extra-virgin olive oil. Toss until well incorporated.
Adjust the seasoning and serve immediately.
For the Tomato Sauce (yields 2 cups): Place a pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Prepare an ice bath by placing ice in a bowl and filling with cold water. Core tomatoes with a paring knife, and discard cores. Score the bottom of each tomato with an "X." When water has come to a boil, place tomatoes in water and leave for 15 seconds, until skin begins to split away. Transfer to ice bath. When cool, peel with paring knife.
Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Remove seeds with your thumb, and set seeded tomatoes aside. Reserve seeds and excess juices. If using canned tomatoes, seed in the same way.
In a new pot, place 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. When oil is hot, carefully transfer tomatoes to the pot. Add a pinch of salt and chili flakes.
Allow tomatoes to cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften, then smash them with a potato masher. If the consistency is particularly thick, strain excess tomato juices for seeds and add to pot. Allow tomatoes to cook 30 to 45 minutes over medium heat, smashing and stirring occasionally.
While tomatoes are cooking, prepare basil-garlic oil. Take a small saucepan and place the remaining 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil in the pan. Add garlic cloves, basil, and chili flakes. Slowly heat to allow the flavors to transfer to oil. When garlic is lightly browned, remove from heat. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Strain oil and combine with tomato mixture.
Remove the sauce from the heat and adjust the seasoning with additional salt, as needed.