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The Pasta Queen’s Pasta Al Sugo

Pasta al sugo is the essence of life. Every Italian dreams of this dish, which is as simple and quick as it is gorgeous. When the garlic and basil infuse the tomatoes, it creates an unstoppable force of nature just like you are). In Italy, this is one of our most beloved dishes, and we make it any time we want to feel caressed by the classic flavors of home. It's so fundamental to Italians that we don't even call it "pasta with tomato.” It's simply "pasta with sauce." The tomato is such a star, its presence is implied.

Due to this dish's simplicity, you really have to use the best canned tomatoes you can find. There is a huge range of different ones out there, and many of them put “Made in Italy” on the label as shorthand for quality. But the only way to know if a canned tomato is truly great is to taste and feel it. Open the can, touch the tomatoes: Do they have tough bits? Do you see any green, unripened parts? Taste a spoonful: Are they too acidic? These are all red flags for me. I want a juicy, ripe-tasting tomato that contains a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. Long story short: If it doesn't taste good from the can, it won't taste good on the pasta. Search out some special pomodori and your palate (and pasta!) will thank you!

Photo by Giovanna Di Lisciandro


Makes 4 servings

2 garlic cloves, minced practically to a paste

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

6 to 8 fresh basil leaves, torn, plus whole leaves for garnish

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand

Sea salt

1 pound spaghetti

Freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, for dusting (optional)

Alternate pasta shapes: Any pasta shape will work with this recipe


Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat.

Meanwhile, in a large deep saute pan, heat the garlic and olive oil over medium-low heat until the garlic starts sizzling with little bubbles around it, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the basil and sizzle until fragrant, about 10 seconds, then add the tomatoes and stir in salt to taste. Increase the heat to medium-high and let the tomato sauce bubble vigorously until the tomatoes lose their raw flavor, about 7 minutes.

Once the water has reached a rolling boil, season with salt until the water tastes like a seasoned soup. Drop in the pasta and cook until very al dente (a little more than half the recommended cooking time).

Transfer the pasta to the sauté pan along with a ladle (½ cup) of pasta cooking water and cook, stirring, until the pasta is al dente. Check frequently to see when the pasta is done and add more pasta cooking water as needed to finish cooking the pasta and keep the sauce loose.

Serve topped with Pecorino Romano (if using) and fresh basil leaves.

From The Pasta Queen: A Just Gorgeous Cookbook: 100+ Recipes and Stories by Nadia Caterina Munno. Reprinted by permission of Gallery Books.  

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