The three-ingredient pasta sauce Featured


A tomato pasta sauce complex enough that you'll think it includes an arm's-length list of ingredients. (Edward Schneider for The Washington Post)
Here’s an emperor’s-new-clothes pasta sauce for you, in the sense that it tastes complex enough that some will hypothesize it contains an arm’s-length list of ingredients. But, in fact, as any 10-year-old with an unspoiled palate will blurt out, it includes only two: tomatoes and butter. Three, if you count the salt.

The thing is, it has to be made while the fabulous late-summer tomatoes are still with us; it will not work with industrial tomatoes, whether “fresh” or canned.

Here’s what it is: Take deep-colored, flavorful, juicy tomatoes, submerge them in boiling water for 10 seconds, then peel and coarsely chop them. Briefly apply an immersion blender to the peeled tomatoes or agitate them in a countertop blender. You want them well broken up, but you don’t particularly want all the seeds to be ground into a bitter paste. Using a sturdy metal spoon, smear this rough puree through a fine strainer. Keep smearing longer than it seems necessary, because you want to force as much of the pulp through the sieve as you can.

This should yield a sauce base with the pleasing consistency of soup, though the result will vary depending on the tomatoes you start with. Ideally — as it was with my half dozen Black Prince tomatoes, each 1 and 1/2 inches across, which did the job for two portions of pasta — the base will be so delicious that you’ll just want to drink it as is, perhaps with an iced vodka chaser (a deconstructed Bloody Mary?). But hold yourself back and put the base into a skillet with some salt. Get some butter ready (about 2 tablespoons per person, or more if you’re that kind of person), cut into pieces.

At some point in this enterprise, you’ll have brought a pot of salted water to the boil. Put in some long pasta. I heartily recommend making your own egg noodles, because the flavor of fresh pasta works particularly well here, but spaghetti, spaghettini or linguine will be fine. The mouthfeel of reasonably thin noodles is important; not sure why, but it is.

A minute or less before the pasta is done, bring the tomato puree to the boil and swirl in the butter, which will add an additional dimension to the already delicious sauce. Check for salt. Strain the pasta, add it to the skilletful of sauce and stir it around over medium heat for a few seconds; it will absorb some of the sauce.

That’s it. Pasta with tomato puree and butter. Jackie and I added grated parmesan at the table, and it was delightful. But tomatoes and butter are pretty delightful on their own, too.

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