In the summertime in Italy, raw tomato sauce is ubiquitous wherever tomatoes grow. The spirit of raw tomato sauce (sugo di pomodoro crudo) is uniquely Italian—the absolute freshest ingredients coupled with minimal intervention produce a sublime final product.
For this dish to work, all of the ingredients will have to be the best available. The tomatoes, whether of the cherry or plum variety, should be freschissimi. The same goes for the basil. Ideally, the olive oil should be Italian, extra virgin, and first cold-pressed (also single-origin if you can find it). Then, a bit of sea salt, a hint of garlic, and some great pasta are all you need to complete summer’s most elemental dish.
There are a few tricks for making this dish as flavorful as possible. Squishing the tomatoes releases some juices and softens the skin, making for a more cohesive sauce. A crushed (but still whole) clove of garlic, mixed in with the sauce and allowed to sit for between twenty and forty minutes, will lend a bit of garlicky perfume to the sauce without overpowering the delicate taste. The olive oil and sea salt will tie everything together and invigorate the sauce.
The final dish can be served warm or cold, with any shape of pasta (rigatoni and spaghetti are both great options). To make it a more complete meal, you can add grated pecorino, ricotta, or ricotta salata at the table. Whatever you do, it will be delicious.
Recipe: Raw Tomato Sauce (Sugo di pomodoro crudo)
1 1/4 lbs fresh tomatoes (cherry, plum, datterini—anything small and saucy)
10-12 large basil leaves, plus a few extra for garnishing
1 or 2 garlic cloves, crushed but still whole (optional)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus ~2 tbs more for finishing)
2 good pinches of sea salt, plus more to taste
Optional: grated pecorino romano, ricotta, or ricotta salata
Cut the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces and move to a (non-metal) bowl. Squish the pieces between your fingers, making sure to get all of the juices in the bowl.
Tear (or cut) the basil leaves into small pieces and mix in with the tomatoes.
Crush a clove of garlic or two and add to the tomatoes.
Pour 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil into the bowl.
Add 2 big pinches of salt, stir, and taste for seasoning. Adjust as needed.
Let the sauce sit, at room temperature, for at least 30 minutes (longer is better, it can sit out on the counter, covered with a dish towel, for a couple of hours). Remove the garlic when desired (between 20 and 40 minutes is generally enough time).
Taste the sauce again, and adjust for seasoning. Once the tomatoes have given off some liquid and the sauce tastes basil-y and garlicky enough, put a pot of water on to boil.
Salt the water well (taste it, it should be noticeably salty) and add your pasta. Cook until al dente.
Drain the pasta and add immediately to the bowl with the sauce. Mix vigorously, drizzling over more olive oil.
Bring to the table, dish it out, and top with the cheese and the rest of the torn basil leaves, if desired. Enjoy!
Note: This pasta can also be served at room temperature, just let the dish rest before serving. And, even when you’re making cold or room temperature pasta, never ever rinse it in cold water!
Julia Terranova is a Brooklyn born, Italian-American student with a love of Rome and all things Italy. She spends her time cooking for friends and reading as many cookbooks as she can find.