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A Simple Tomato Sauce for Summer

Despite the unseasonably cool weather we've been having, tomatoes are hitting their stride [1] as August moves on and the temperatures finally hit some higher marks. With a huge variety of shapes, sizes and colors available at local farmers markets, there seems to be a variety for every possible recipe–'maters for slicing and eating raw, for canning, for salsa, for making sun-dried tomatoes, for any number of tomato sauces. Cooking classic red gravy-style [2] sauce–a madeleine for many an Italian-American–with fresh tomatoes would undoubtedly yield wonderful results, but the long simmering time isn't all that attractive in the summer months. Instead, summer's tomatoes can dress pasta without coming near a flame, having simply marinated in salt, olive oil and their own tart juices, the raw fruit softened and loosely emulsified by a touch of the hot, starchy water used to cook the pasta.

The key to this dish is the pasta water, a commodity often stained off and poured down the drain when cooking up a box of linguine for dinner. Just as whisking flour into a sauce cooked on the stove top will help to thicken it, the excess starch from the pasta makes the cooking water act similarly, helping the light sauce to cling to the strands instead of draining through and pooling on the plate. And the hot water has the added effect of lightly cooking not only the tomatoes, but any other ingredients you feel like throwing in–a handful of arugula, smashed garlic, herbs, etc. With a swirl of good olive oil and a dusting of parmigiano or pecorino, it makes a perfect summery plate of pasta that requires nothing more than some simple chopping and boiling a pot of water.

Pasta with Summer Tomato Sauce

¾ pound spaghetti or linguine (but anything can work, really)
1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes or 3-4 smaller heirloom tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, smashed and mined finely
2 cups (loosely packed) arugula or other greens (optional)
 ¼ fresh basil, oregano or other herbs (optional)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Grated aged cheese, such as parmigiano or pecorino, for serving

1. Bring a large stockpot full of water to a boil, then salt heavily

2. If using cherry tomatoes, halve the tomatoes and toss with salt and enough olive oil to coat. If using heirloom tomatoes, blanch in boiling water for around ten seconds to loosen the skins, then peel and half them. Squeeze out most of the seeds, then slice into wedges and toss with salt and olive oil.

3. Add the garlic to the tomatoes and, if using, the greens and herbs.

4. Cook the pasta until al dente, between 7 and 10 minutes, depending on the type.

5. Using tongs, pull the pasta out of the stockpot and put it directly into the bowl with the other ingredients, tossing the sauce and pasta together. The water dripping from the pasta should be enough to wilt the greens, soften up the tomatoes and make a slightly thickened emulsion with the olive oil and the juices pulled out of the tomatoes by the salt.

6. Transfer to plates and top with a swirl of olive oil and a dusting of cheese before serving.