The first time I tasted Scott Conant's Spaghetti al Pomodoro, it was at a restaurant that doesn't exist anymore, but I haven't stopped thinking about it. For such a simple dish, it's surprisingly memorable. The acidity from the tomatoes, mixed with the garden-fresh flavor of the basil, tossed together with pasta lathered in butter and olive oil, work together in a way store-bought tomato sauce can't replicate. I didn't realize pasta with tomato sauce could taste so delicious—or that basil could be so vibrant in a cooked dish, which comes from Conant's technique of steeping the herb in simmering sauce, like tea.
Afters years of trying and failing to replicate the dish, I became excited when I heard Conant (normally a New York-based chef) was returning to L.A. to open a new restaurant, The Ponte. As soon as the menu became available, I scanned it for his "Pasta al Pomodoro" and was thrilled to find the signature dish was going to be available. Read on for how to make Scott Conant's Spaghetti al Pomodoro:
Remove core of tomatoes.
Blanch tomatoes briefly, then shock in ice water (this makes them easier to peel). Remove skin and discard. Quarter and de-seed the tomatoes and strain the liquid from the seeds through a fine mesh strainer. Reserve the liquid. Discard the seeds.
Put peeled tomatoes, juice, and salt in a large bowl. Mix the salt into the tomatoes and set aside.
Place garlic in a sauce pot and cover with the olive oil. Cook over very low heat until garlic is golden and soft. Strain and reserve oil.
In a heavy-bottom, large stockpot, add the infused garlic oil and chile flakes. Turn heat to low for about 2 minutes, slowly blooming the chili flakes.
Add the salted tomatoes and their liquid into the pot and turn heat to medium-high.
Bring to a slight boil and skim foam that rises to the top.
Lower heat to medium low, or until a simmer. Smash the tomatoes with a potato masher during the cooking. Cook 'til reduced by a quarter, about 25 to 30 minutes, plus or minus. Adjust seasoning with kosher salt.
Remove from heat and submerge basil to infuse in the sauce. Keep the basil in as the sauce completely cools.
Set aside 24 ounces of the sauce (roughly 3/4 of a quart) in a sauté pan, to finish preparing the pasta with. Save the rest for later in an airtight, resealable container (it freezes well for future pasta nights!).
Bring a large pot of amply salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti until just shy of al dente. Reserve a little of the pasta cooking water before draining.
Add the pasta to the sauce and cook over medium-high heat, gently tossing the pasta and 24 ounces of the sauce together with a couple of wooden spoons and a lot of exaggerated movement (you can even shake the pan) until the pasta is just tender and the sauce has mixed. If any oil had separated from it, it should now look cohesive. (If the sauce seems too thick, add a little pasta cooking liquid to adjust it.)
Note: To accomplish this aeration with larger portions and without fancy wrist work, cook the sauce in a pan with a lot of surface area. When you add the pasta to the sauce, gently toss the pasta with a couple of wooden spoons (tongs can bruise and break the strands), lifting the pasta high above the bottom of the pot.
Take the pan off of the heat and toss the butter, cheese, and basil with the pasta in the same manner (the pasta should take on an orange hue) and serve immediately. Enjoy!