This dish of homemade egg pasta spaghetti with roasted tomato sauce is one of my favorite dishes from one of my favorite cookbook authors, Giuliano Bugialli. The sauce is simple to make and, if you use dry spaghetti (or store-bought fresh) the dish becomes extremely simple to execute. But if you’re feeling a bit ambitious, homemade pasta brings it to another level.
Making the spaghetti
I usually make life easy for myself by using my trusty KitchenAid mixer to form and knead the pasta dough and then the pasta attachments to roll out and cut the dough into various pasta shapes.
For 4 persons
- 350g (3 cups) flour
- 3 eggs
- A pinch of salt
Pour the flour into the mixing bowl with a pinch of salt, and turn on the mixer with the dough paddle attached and mix at slow speed (setting 1-2). Then add, one by one, the eggs.
Once the eggs are well incorporated, switch to the dough hook and continue to mix, first continuing at a slow speed, then turning it up a notch to a moderate speed (setting 3 or 4) until the dough forms a smooth surfaced, uniform ball.
Depending on various factors, including the exact size of the eggs and the ambient humidity in your kitchen, one of two things may happen: either the ball will be very sticky and wet, in which case you can add a bit more flour until the dough becomes firmer, or the dough will remain too dry to form a ball, in which case you can add a bit of water.
To make the rolling and cutting easier later on, you can add a drop of oil, before adding the eggs although purists frown on this. Take the ball of dough out of the mixing bowl and place it on a lightly floured wooden board (spianatoia) or other dry surface and knead it by hand for a few minutes until the dough has reached the right consistency—smooth and pliable and yet still firm. (If you find that the dough is too wet, sprinkle it with flour and knead the additional flour into the dough.)
Then allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes wrapped in plastic wrap. This rest will ‘relax’ the dough and make it much easier to work with, but if you lack time, it is not an absolutely necessary step.
Then put the pasta roller attachment on the mixer, set at the widest setting and, taking a piece of dough corresponding to one of the eggs used to make the dough (in other words, if you used 3 eggs, cut the dough into three pieces), flatten it out with your hand or a rolling pin and then pass it through the roller, which will turn the dough ball into a rather thick sheet. If the pasta has a smooth consistency (which is should if it has been properly kneaded and rested) then lightly flour the pasta sheet, turn the roller to the next, slightly narrower setting, and pass the sheet through the roller once again. For spaghetti, you can stop here or go to the third setting if you want your spaghetti a bit thinner. (When making other types of pasta like tagliatelle, fettucine, lasagne or ravioli, you would go thinner still.)
Repeat the process with the other pieces of dough–which you will have kept wrapped in plastic so they don’t dry out.
Lay out the pasta sheet to dry on a towel or–my preferred method–on a baking rack. The baking rack will allow air to flow on both sides of the pasta, so it will dry more quickly and evenly. In either case, however, it is a good idea to turn the sheets over every once and while so they dry evenly–the top will always dry more quickly than the bottom, even when using the rack. The pasta is dry enough when it feels ‘leathery’ to the touch but not brittle. If it is not dry enough, the pasta stands will tend to stick together when you cut the sheet, while the dough will become unworkable if dries out. (If you notice that splits are beginning to open on the sides of the pasta sheets, then it is getting too dry, but if you act quickly enough, the dough can still be used.) With some practice (and a few inevitable misfires) recognizing the right degree of dryness will become second-nature.
Once dried to the right point, pass the pasta sheets through the cutting attachment. The pasta attachment set for the Kitchenaid mixer, as well as most pasta ‘machines’, come with two cutting attachments, one for thin pasta like spaghetti and one for ribbon pasta like tagliatelle. The one for thin pasta will be the roller with cutting blades at narrow intervals looking something like a comb. As the pasta sheet passes through the roller, catch the strands of pasta with your open hand and gently hold them up so they do not fold onto each other. Lay them out on a floured surface (or back on the rack). Given how thick the pasta sheets for spaghetti are, it is possible that some (or a lot) of the strands will stick together. If this happens, then you can just gently pull the strands apart. It’s a bit tedious but not too difficult.
Making the sauce
For 4 persons
- 1 kg (2 lbs.) very ripe, fresh tomatoes
- 4-5 anchovy fillets (optional)
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, cut into slivers
- 250ml (1 cup) olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Red pepper flakes
Cut the tomatoes into thick slices. (If using larger tomatoes, such as ‘beefsteaks’, cut them into chunks.) Then layer the tomato slices or chunks in an oiled baking dish or overproof braiser. (I find a braiser works well, as it is deep enough to contain the pasta later one). On top of your first layer, lay a few anchovy filets if using and (my addition) some slivers of garlic. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and some red pepper flakes, to taste, and then drizzle over a bit of olive oil. Then repeat until you’ve used up your tomatoes.
Pour the rest of the olive oil on top of it all. It will look like an awful lot of oil, but remember you will need that oil to dress the pasta later on, not just to cook the tomatoes.
Place the tomatoes in hot oven (2oo C/400 F) and roast for about an hour. (Another personal twist—Bugialli calls for only 20 minutes in the oven, but the longer time allows the tomatoes to reduce further, which really concentrates their flavor.)
This sauce can be made ahead and then gently reheated when you are ready to serve the pasta.
Completing the dish
Boil the fresh spaghetti in plentiful, well-salted water. When it is still quite al dente—and this should take only 2-4 minutes, as fresh pasta cooks much more quickly than dry—scoop the spaghetti out of the boiling water with a spaghetti fork, transfer it to the pan with the tomatoes, together with a good handful of chopped or torn basil (another personal touch—Bugialli calls for chopped parsley). Mix well and serve immediately.
NB: Don’t drain the pasta well—allow some of the pasta water to cling to the pasta, which will thin out the sauce a bit and help it to mix with the pasta. If the pasta still seems dry, then just add a ladleful of the pasta water. If you don’t have a spaghetti fork, you can always drain the pasta in a colander, but remember to reserve a measuring cup of pasta water to thin out the sauce.
Bugialli’s recipe can be found in The Foods of Italy. According to Bugialli, this dish is the direct descendant of the very first pasta and tomato dish that is documented in the historical record, from an 1830 cookbook by Vincenzo Corrado.(more on him below). In that original dish, the short stubby ‘maccheroni’ were baked, still dry, with olive and fresh tomatoes, for a result that is a bit stodgy. This dish–I’m not sure if it’s Bugialli’s invention or a ‘find’ from Neapolitan cooking–is a wonderful adaption, more agreeable to modern tastes.
For this dish, I found some nice ‘heirloom’ plum tomatoes from a local farm that had lots of flavor. Plum tomatoes are best for this dish, but any type—so long as they are nice and ripe—will do. But the thing I love about this dish is that roasting the tomatoes gives even fairly insipid tomatoes a new lease on life by concentrating their flavor. And there is something about roasting that provides ‘depth’ that no amount of simmer ever would.
If you don’t have a KitchenAid mixer, of course you can make the pasta dough in the same way either with a food processor (being very careful, however, not to over-process) and using a pasta ‘machine’ to roll out the dough. Of, if you were my nonna Angelina, you would make the pasta dough on a board and roll it out and cut it by hand–but that’s a recipe for another day. And, fi you’re not in the mood to make your own spaghetti, no worries–just use store-bought spaghetti, linguine or bucatini. And I’m sure that even a stubby pasta–the original choice anyway–would work very nicely.
The original source for the predessor recipe, Vincenzo Corrado, is considered the greatest Neapolitan gastronome of the 18th century and early 19th centuries. His first masterwork, Il cuoco galante, published in 1773, presented the aristocratic, French-influenced cuisine of the Neapolitan nobility of the time. Much later in life, in 1832, he published a two volume work of over 600 recipes, known as i Pranzi giornalieri, or The Daily Dinners, was his attempt to adapt this cuisine for daily life. The title derives from the fact that the book actually offers recipes for dinners for each day of 16 weeks out of the year, four for each season. It is from this latter book that the recipe was taken. This books also contains the first known written recipes for parmigiana di melanzane–Corrado was quite a guy!
The other great Neapolitan gastronome, Ippolito Cavalcanti, lived in the 19th century, when Neapolitan cuisine took on many of the features that we consider typical today. He is well worth his own post, however, one day. Works by both Corrado and Cavalcanti, along with many other classic cookbooks, are available from Libreria Napolis, a Neapolitan publishing house, presumably only in Italian. I have no idea if they will ship abroad. Unfortunately Corrado’s book is not available, as far as I can tell, on amazon.com.