I wanted to replicate that dining experience recently in my Calcutta home. I bought imported Italian spaghetti and fresh Indian tomatoes – I haven’t so far seen canned Italian tomatoes in Calcutta. And, I made the marinara from a recipe by acclaimed Italian chef Lidia Mattichhio Bastianich, but it wasn’t the same as I had tasted in America several years ago. The marinara ended up too dry and chunky; so much so that it didn’t quite mix with the spaghetti as other sauces do.
Here is my recipe for the classic marinara, as adapted from Chef Bastianich:
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1½ pounds fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
Salt, to taste
Crushed red pepper, to taste
5 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn (or ⅓ tsp dried basil)
- In a medium-size, non-reactive saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the garlic and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes.
- Carefully add the tomatoes and their liquid (Because I didn’t have canned tomatoes, I tried to catch as much of the juice while processing them, using a strainer).
- Bring to a boil and season lightly with salt and crushed red pepper.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer, breaking up the tomatoes with a whisk as they cook, until the sauce is chunky and thick, about 20 minutes.
- Stir in the basil about 5 minutes before the sauce is finished (I cheated here – I used dry basil.)
- Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
After I finished step 7, I had an extremely chunky and dry sauce. It tasted fine. It had the nutty flavor of browned garlic and of the blend of tomato, basil and olive oil. I realize that the sauce is expected to be chunky, but, as I said earlier, my creation was too dry to mix with the pasta well.
What went wrong? Was there something inherently wrong with the recipe? Is 20 minutes too long for the simmer? I do know from Internet research that some chefs use tomato puree instead of, or in addition to, chopped tomatoes. Post your comments.