Everything good can only be improved by the addition of the word ‘roasted’ (assuming that the word is actually applied and not just talked about). Rustic and deeply savoury with bursts of sweetness from the caramelized garlic, this sauce is a more patient version of my standard weeknight marinara sauce. I even paired this version with a good-quality gluten-free pasta (yes, this exists!) and it was still divine. Omit the cheese and it could even be a vegan dish – but don’t go getting too pious on me now…
Roasted Tomato Pasta Pomodoro
2 28-oz cans whole peeled tomatoes, divided
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
¼ cup olive oil + 2 tbsp
1 large yellow onion, diced
½ tsp dried oregano
10 basil leaves, stacked, rolled, and sliced into thin ribbons
12 oz casarecce or penne pasta (or any other short, thick noodle; this is about ¾ of a 500 gr package)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese + more for serving
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Using your hands, crush ONE can of tomatoes into a single layer in a medium-sized baking dish, reserving the tomato juice in a separate bowl. Don’t worry about the other can of tomatoes quite yet. Scatter the garlic cloves over the crushed tomatoes along with ¼ cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, then roast for 35-40 minutes, until the tomatoes are sticky and browned around the edges. Set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to soften (~5 minutes). Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook for 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed to avoid burning. The onions should caramelize considerably without blackening or shriveling. Add the dried oregano to the skillet and cook for another minute. Open the second can of tomatoes and crush them into the skillet, adding the juices as well. Scrape the reserved roasted tomatoes and garlic into the skillet. Season it all up with a generous pinch of kosher salt. Don’t worry if things seem a bit juicy, the sauce will reduce considerably as it cooks down. Turn the heat up to medium and bring to a vigourous simmer, stirring and cooking until reduced, about 15 minutes. If the sauce thickens too much, add the reserved juices from the first can of tomatoes as needed to loosen everything up. Once the sauce has thickened, stir in the chopped basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper; set aside until ready to reheat.
Set a large pot of well-salted water to boil over high heat (this means you need to add more salt than you probably feel comfortable with – just do it – this is the only point where you really get to season the pasta itself). Cook the pasta, stirring occasionally until the noodles are quite al dente (check the package instructions for your brand and type of noodle, but I found that 6 minutes was about right). Just before the pasta finishes cooking, scoop out a cupful of the starchy water and set aside. Drain the pasta, but do not rinse it or do any other such foolish thing. Stir ¼ cup of the starchy pasta water into the sauce to loosen it. Place the skillet back over a hot burner and bring to a boil. Add the drained pasta to the boiling sauce and cook for 2 minutes, stirring until the noodles are tender and slicked with sauce. Remove the pan from the heat, add the cheese, and toss well until melted and incorporated into the sauce. Divide the pasta among bowls and sprinkle with extra Parmesan. Surely there is a heavenly beam of light shining down onto your pasta bowl as we speak.