One of the things I love most about food is its ability to constantly surprise you. Marry together a method you’d never considered with an ingredient that you’d never have thought to pair it with et voila, a whole new world has opened up before your hungry eyes. Such was the case one frosty window-paned winters evening when I came across a recipe on the fabulous Epicurious.com for pasta with butter roasted tomato sauce.
Butter? Hell yes.
Tinned tomatoes? Ooh interesting, let’s give it a go…
I have such a love for roasting as a way of cooking and will merrily season & affectionately deposit pretty much anything into the oven be it a piece of succulent, golden corn coloured chicken, plump & skin-splitting pink pork sausages or kaleidoscopic baking trays piled high with olive oil splashed vegetables. It’s not only the flavours that are amazing but the crispy, charred, caramelised peaks & edges of your dinner are just ridiculously, toe-curlingly good.
But tinned tomatoes? Nope. Never considered it before but now, after seeing how furtively simple it is but how massive a difference in flavour it makes to the end result, it seems a bit of a cop out to dump the contents of your can into a saucepan, give it a stir and then dig in without any other effort.
Slightly adapting this to make it vegetarian, I left out the anchovy fillets but kept in the whole can of tomatoes and added a good dusting of smoked paprika along with the red pepper flakes which deliver a deeply-warming-from-the-inside out richness. When you buy your tomatoes, there’s no shame in going for the cheapest – one of the perks of tinned vegetables is that they’re good for both stomach & wallet – but if you can, take it up a notch or two. A few more pennies spent on the bare bones of this dish will deliver something both surprising and delightful.
I can’t deny that the addition of beautiful soft cubes of butter mean it’s certainly not an entirely angelic dinner but squash your guilt with the knowledge that cooked tomatoes and garlic contain huge amounts of antioxidants as well as decent servings of fibre, iron, Vitamin C and lycopene which helps to reduce the risk of cancer & heart disease as well as improving eye health. Plus, no need to fear vampires. Win, win.
INGREDIENTS (to serve 2)
- 1 can of tinned tomatoes (chopped or whole is fine as you’re going to break the fruit up with your hands)
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled & finely sliced (I like as much surface area of the garlic to come into contact with the tomatoes hence slicing rather than crushing)
- 30 grams of butter in small cubes (I use unsalted as I like to control the seasoning in my dishes)
- 1/2 teaspoon of crushed pepper flakes (plus a little more if you like to sprinkle over at the end)
- 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika
- Salt & pepper
- Generous handfuls of finely grated Parmesan for a delectably cheesy finish
- 160 grams of wholewheat spaghetti (choose your favourite pasta here – it’s comfort food so eat what you love!)
- Turn your oven on to 425f / 220c and pop a shelf in the middle
- In a baking dish – I used a 6″ by 10″ ceramic one – combine your tomatoes, sliced garlic, red pepper flakes and paprika, squelching everything between your fingers not to the point of total liquidity but to break down some of the larger tomato chunks.
- Dot the cubed butter on top, season well with salt and pepper and place on the middle shelf of your oven.
- Roast for 20 minutes, remove from the oven, give it a gentle going through with a potato masher then return to the oven for another 15-20 minutes or until the mixture looks shiny and jam-like in its consistency. Resist the urge to stick your face in it.
- Approximately 10-15 minutes before the tomatoes are done, cook your pasta in plenty of salted boiling water then drain but don’t rinse and keep back 1/4 – 1.2 a cup of the pasta cooking water.
- Put your pasta back in its pan and add the tomatoes making sure to scrape in any sticky bits off the side of the dish and the pasta liquid; I add a little at a time to ensure it doesn’t become excessively watery.
- Cook over a low-medium heat for 3-4 minutes until every silky, slippery strand of pasta is glazed with the sauce then serve with plenty of cheese, additional red pepper flakes as you like and warm crusty bread.
This is about as simple a mid-week supper as you could hope for. The oven does all the hard work as it roasts and imparts extra flavour to an ingredient that always languishes at the back of your cupboard but rarely never steps forward to take centre stage, allowing instead its fresher brethren to bask in the limelight. Well not any more kids. This sauce is sweet with garlic and simple in construction; the spices add a gentle glowing warmth and really, who doesn’t get excited at the thought of a new way to eat pasta?
Sure you could dress it up with fresh herbs, pad it out with plum sized meatballs or make it a post-watershed dish with the addition of a generous glug of red wine but honestly, don’t be scared by the purity of this dish…sometimes learning how to really enjoy one of the loveliest ingredients in a pared back and elegant manner is all you could wish for from your dinner.