gettin’ saucy with it

You’d be lying if “pasta” wasn’t one of the first things to pop into your mind when thinking of Italy.

A few nights ago, our group convened in the gardens of the Pantheon Institute for a potluck dinner. Some of my friends brought decadent desserts from artisan sweetshops while others provided pizza from a marble-top oven pizzeria in Trastevere. Then there were some, myself included, who opted to channel our inner Giada De Laurentiis’.

While I’ve perused the pages of her personality-filled Everyday Italian cookbook, I used one of my all-time favorite references: my mother. Before I embarked on the nine hour flight to Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, she left the pages of my little blue Book of Brilliant Ideas filled with a few recipes to try my hand at if I took a trip to the markets (Ed. note: among emergency contact lists and endless copies of my boarding passes and passport).

After class, my friend Molly and I noshed on the idea of cooking pasta with homemade sauces. A walk to the Conad in Trastevere, 30 euros, and 45 minutes later, we strolled back to the Pantheon Institute with flimsy grocery bags towering over our heads stuffed with the freshest ingredients.

My tomato sauce á la Mama Hamati was a huge hit, as the sides of the pan were licked clean in the aftermath of our dinner. In addition to being incredibly simple to make, it doubles as a dip for fresh bread toasted with an olive oil drizzle and is quite healthy. The sawwce is the souwwce of life, so without further ado, here’s the recipe: (Ed. Notes & Cautions — spicy and made for a party of 16. Many tomatoes were harmed in the making of this sauce.)

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INGREDIENTS:
> A variety of tomatoes — (I used four or five different types, including both cherry and regular. It’s entirely up to you)
> Olive oil — (I guesstimate; you need enough to cover the large flat pan but I also added a little more here and there to give it body)
> 1 can of tomato paste
> Fresh parsley, chopped
> Fresh basil, chopped
> Chili oil, ~2 tbsp
> Oregano, to taste
> Salt, to taste
> Black pepper, to taste
> Crushed red pepper, to taste
> Paprika, to taste
> Rosemary, to taste
> 1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed — (I used a travel-sized mini garlic press from Sur La Table, which you can get here)

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PRET A MANGER:
> Wash and chop the tomatoes into a variety of sizes. It really depends on how chunky you want your sauce, which aids to the simplicity of this. I halved the smallest tomatoes, and for the larger ones (of which I only used two), I thinly sliced them, quartered them, and halved them until I had smaller-than-bite-sized cubes. Set aside.
> In a large frying pan, pour olive oil to coat the base and turn a stove to medium or low heat, stirring. (Ed Note: I played around with the heat levels in creating this– fluctuating between medium and low as needed. Whenever the garlic was ready, I turned off the heat completely. I only ever turned it back on to low/lowest setting when I added the tomatoes/paste just to make sure all was well mixed.)
> Finely chop garlic.
> Add garlic, being careful not to singe it; you want it lightly sautéed. Keep stirring lightly.
> Add the tomatoes, continuing to stir with a spatula or wooden spoon.
> Drizzle a little more olive oil and ~2 tbsp chili oil, and add a couple pinches of salt to taste, stirring.
> Add the contents of 1 can tomato paste and mix well with the tomatoes. (Ed. Note: at this point, I’d turned off the heat completely)
> Add the peppers, paprika, dry rosemary, a little more salt to taste, and any excess garlic as necessary, stirring.
> Garnish with basil and parsley, let cool. A bottle of vini bianchi, a side of pane e insalate Caprese, some good company, and you’re in business. Buon appetito!

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