Capellini with Fresh Tomato Sauce

by Matt on June 29, 2009


Everyone has their favorite recipes. Whether they come from dogeared books or handwritten on yellowed paper or even crinkled laser print-outs, these recipes become favorites in the kitchen and almost become a part of us. I have several that I rely on regularly but none as much as this recipe. It’s a key player in my arsenal of recipes that first appeared in the July edition of Gourmet Magazine from 2006. I remember making it three years ago and completely falling in love with it. A simple pasta dish of angel hair and the best, ripest tomatoes you can find (heirlooms work perfectly!) make for a really simple supper because there’s no cooking involved except for boiling the pasta. And in the dead of summer the last thing anyone wants to do is turn on the oven or stand over a stove cooking for an hour. That’s why this is such a perfect recipe that I’ll usually make weekly from now until the end of August. It tastes like summer.

It’s pretty foolproof and it’s all about technique here. Two-thirds of the super-ripe tomatoes get diced while the rest get grated with a box grater using the large holes. Pulp, juice and chop make the sauce here and the addition of lemon juice and salt give it that zing. I’ve made it with and without the sugar, that’s mostly a matter of personal preference. The recipe also says it can be made 2 hours in advance but that’s about it. It’s meant to be enjoyed relatively quickly.

Capellini with Fresh Tomato Sauce Gourmet July 2006

cappdetailI’ve never met Ian Knauer from Gourmet but if I did I’d want to shake his hand or give him a hug for this recipe. It’s summer in a bowl. I’ve found that this is a great recipe for tomatoes that are a bit too ripe or for tomatoes of irregular size that cannot be sliced well for salads or caprese. And remember, angel hair is a must in this dish as anything thicker becomes too heavy since the sauce is raw.

1 small garlic clove
3 lb tomatoes (ripe, please!)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 lb dried capellini
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
extra virgin olive oil for dressing

Mince the garlic and mash it into a paste using a pinch of salt.

Core and roughly chop two thirds of the tomatoes. Halve the remaining tomatoes crosswise then rub the cut sides of the tomatoes against the large holes of a box grater. Remember to use the largest holes possible. Grate into a large bowl, reserving pulp and discarding the skin. Toss the pulp with the chopped tomatoes, garlic and salt paste, lemon juice, salt, sugar (optional) and black pepper. Let stand until ready to use, at least 10 minutes.

While the tomato sauce is standing, cook your pasta in boiling salted water, uncovered until al dente, 2 minutes or so. Drain in a colander and immediately add to tomato mixture, tossing well to combine, Sprinkle with basil and drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt before serving.

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Loulou June 29, 2009 at 6:09 am

Grating some of the tomatoes is a brilliant idea. As is the addition of lemon juice.
I make a version of this dish when it’s hot out, but must try this as well!

Michele Morris June 29, 2009 at 6:53 am

I just posted a similar recipe on my blog this weekend (yea! fresh tomatoes are finally back in Colorado!), but I add fresh mozzarella cheese to mine to make it like a Caprese salad in a pasta dish.

Gordon Hamilton June 29, 2009 at 9:06 am

The two most important factors I always look for in a quality recipe is freshness of ingredients and simplicity. This beautiful looking and delicious sounding recipe meets both those requirements and more.

This is one of the reasons why I love Mediterranean food so much: the vast majority of it meets my two most important criteria. This is definitely a dish I will be preparing in the very near future.

Thank you for sharing it and I look forward to seeing more of your creations very soon.

meleyna June 29, 2009 at 11:14 am

I make a Nigella version of this, though I use a pastry blender to break the tomatoes up. A box grater makes a batrillion times more sense, and I’m having a huge “duh” moment right now. Which is perhaps why I don’t work for Gourmet.

Hillary June 29, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Love the idea of this “raw sauce”! Very different and summery!

Cate June 29, 2009 at 8:27 pm

This sounds perfect for the steamy summer days we’ve been having. I may have to use cherry tomatoes instead, because the big tomatoes here are not very inspiring – slightly green and hard as rocks.

Amy June 30, 2009 at 3:27 am

Ian, like this salad, is terrific. You would like him very much. I do hope you are following him on Twitter!

fabio June 30, 2009 at 3:37 am

Wonderful stuff Mat!

Try the following also:

1. Skin some good tomatoes.
2. Once skinned, squeeze the excess juice from them. Not all of it, you want some of the seed goodness.
3. Properly mince some garlic and put in a pan with some good olive oil.
4. Before the garlic starts to colour add the tomato pulp.
5. Fry until the moment when, passing a wooden spoon through the pan, it leaves a clean path (the plot, and the sauce thickens). Sugar, salt and pepper, as you wish. 9 or 10 minutes? Cook your pasta in the mean time!
6. Add some chilli flakes of your choice. And take off the heat.
7. Mix this with your pasta of choice (I prefer tagliatelli).
8. Enjoy, with maybe some parmesan, some torn basil and a good glass of a young red wine. Better eaten outdoors.

I hope you will like it!

Barbara W. June 30, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Love this. Had it in 1978 when we stayed with friends in Brussels for a couple of weeks. Hannelore made this minus the garlic, and I’m not sure about lemon juice. But it was so simple and delicious it made a huge impression on me. It showed me that there was still a lot to learn about great food.

Thanks. Great pic!

matt wright June 30, 2009 at 4:06 pm

I am with ya mate. This is one of my all time favorites in the summer. Comes together in a flash too.

Amazing photography usual sir

The Italian Dish July 1, 2009 at 4:38 am

I love simple, no cook sauce like this I’ve never used a box grater for tomatoes, though. I’ve got to try that!

Patricia Scarpin July 1, 2009 at 6:14 am

I wish I could have this for lunch. It looks so fresh and delicious!

thecatskillkiwi July 1, 2009 at 6:39 am

I have met Ian Knauer, he’s very hugable!

jean July 1, 2009 at 9:45 am

The simpler the better. I love fresh flavors without a lot of fuss — jean

Elaine July 1, 2009 at 11:53 am

Your blog makes me so hungry….

Chez US July 1, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Matt, beautiful photo, so simple and elegant! Your meal sounds as wonderful, sometimes the simplest ingredients make for the best dinner!

lolly July 2, 2009 at 7:24 am

this is my absolute favorite summer dish, but i also have never used a box grater – such a good idea! i like to take some fresh mozzarella cut into small cubes and place them in the freezer while i’m getting everything else ready. then when you add them to the hot pasta, they get sort of melty, but not gloopy (i think that tip came from america’s test kitchen). this will be dinner tonight – thanks! have a great weekend.

Tina July 2, 2009 at 7:57 am

I need to go the farmer’s market ASAP so that I can make this while everyone else is grilling this weekend!

The Other Tiger July 2, 2009 at 10:04 am

This reminds me of the absolute only thing I’d eat at Olive Garden when I was a kid (aside from the breadsticks and salad, of course), essentially just angel hair pasta with fresh tomatoes and olive oil. But yours much fresher and more grown up…I’ll have to do something like this soon!

Brad July 5, 2009 at 5:24 pm

I just made this recipe, which is so simple and fast. It’s a delicious summer staple for pasta lovers.

Claudia July 6, 2009 at 9:41 am

Thanks for sharing this great recipe! I’ll keep this as a favorite – it’s really so delicious, fresh, fruity – best pasta sauce for the summer.
My blog post about it: (sorry, it’s in german)

Ian Knauer July 6, 2009 at 10:19 am

Matt, thanks, glad you enjoy it.

Siren July 8, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Absolutely delicious. I made it tonight and it is as delicious as the photo. Can’t thank you enough for the post. The only thing I could have used was slightly riper tomatoes down here, but the recipe is magnifique. You really cannot mess it up. A nice touch is sopping up the juice with some sourdough bread. (Too much starch? My husband does not think so)

Michelle @ July 9, 2009 at 8:17 am

Where did you get that serving bowl?!

Kate July 23, 2009 at 12:26 pm

I know exactly what you mean about favorite recipes! This is one that I have made probably 25 times, and perfect for summer when there are fresh tomatoes and basil everywhere you turn:

Give it a try!!

Meghan Porter August 8, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Loved this post! Completely agree that this is a perfect dish for summer.. or anytime of the year at that! I know what I’ll be having for dinner tonight. :)
You should consider creating a poll for your readers. I’m sure a lot of people would vote since it’s fun and I find it to be pretty useful.

Leon Gregory August 9, 2009 at 2:15 am

Thanks a lot! I’m also a gourmet and pastry enthusiast and this would really go to my compilation. I would also like to share. I came across a good site about European and Swiss cooking which also gives free sample family-secret recipes.

hannah August 27, 2009 at 1:47 pm

I made this, gave a taste to a coworker when I brought the leftovers for lunch, then she made it, and now it is a staple for us both. Perfect!

Florentina September 21, 2009 at 10:19 pm

Tomato Capellini is my favorite go to dish any day of the week. I cook my cherry tomatoes for just a minute until they start releasing their juices. I will try a no cook/fresh tomato sauce next time. This looks good.

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