When I was a kid, I saw a Chef Boyardee commercial on TV, with a child on the screen, happily devouring some stringy orange noodles. The commercial made it look so appetizing, I followed my mom to the store the next day and bought a few cans. This was my first introduction to spaghetti: soft and mushy pasta, orange tomato sauce, and little pieces of processed beef. I was more than just disappointed, I felt lied to by the advertisers who made this stuff look good. Yet all my friends at school loved spaghetti! How could it be? I knew there had to be something better out there.
I bought every different spaghetti product I could find. Kraft’s Tangy Italian Spaghetti kit in a box (Tomato Paste Not Included), Anthony’s spaghetti noodles with Ragu, Creamette spaghetti with Prego…they were all mediocre at best. I finally had my first good spaghetti experience at a mom and pop restaurant in LA called Andre’s – it’s still there, across the street from the Farmer’s Market on 3rd – but that didn’t stop my quest. One day I went to an Italian market and bought some pasta imported from Italy (the kind wrapped in blue butcher paper), and on a shelf in the back, I found what became my epiphany sauce: Rao’s Marinara Sauce, made with imported San Marzano tomatoes (canned), olive oil, and a handful of fresh basil. It immediately became my go-to spaghetti sauce.
My goal was to capture the delicious flavors of the Raos sauce, but using fresh tomatoes. I think you’ll find this an easy recipe to follow along with. Just make sure you set aside 1 and 1/2 hours; one hour of that time will be spent roasting the tomatoes in the oven.
Spaghetti with Easy Roasted Tomatoes
10 ounces of Mini San Marzano or Mini Sugar Plum Tomatoes
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt (plus extra for serving)
2 garlic cloves (thinly sliced)
10 small basil leaves (extra for serving)
6 ounces of fresh or dried spaghetti (or your favorite pasta)
Freshly grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano
Red pepper flakes (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Wash the tomatoes and dry completely with paper towel. Add the tomatoes in an small oven-proof casserole pan, add the olive oil, and salt. Toss well.
3. Roast the tomatoes for 30 minutes.
4. Take the tomatoes out of the oven, toss in the sliced garlic, and put it back in the oven for 30 more minutes.
5. While the tomatoes continue roasting, get a large pot of water to boil. Add a handful of Kosher salt.
6. Remove the tomatoes out of the oven. Immediately, toss in the small basil. Let rest until the tomatoes are cool enough to handle.
7. Add the pasta to the boiling water. Cook until al dente.
8. While the pasta is cooking, peel the skins off the tomatoes. The skins will slip right off. Throw the skins away.
9. Transfer the tomatoes with the liquid into a large sauté pan. Smash the tomatoes with a fork. Heat the tomatoes over medium-high heat. Add the pasta with a little pasta water. Toss the pasta with the tomatoes. Taste for salt.
11. Divide the pasta into 2 serving bowls.
12. Top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, fresh basil leaves, a drizzle of olive oil, and sprinkle of sea salt. Add red pepper flakes, if using.
13. Serve with a glass of Italian red wine and enjoy!