I grew up near Naples and as a child this dish was the only dish I really wanted to eat. Luckily for my mother, it’s simple to make, so she made it for me all the time – I can honestly say I grew up on spaghetti, tomatoes, basil, and garlic.
3 litres water
35 grams salt
0.5 grams lecithin (optional, see cook's note)
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
3 cloves garlic, peeled
700 grams cherry tomatoes, halved
salt and pepper to taste
400 grams spaghetti
handful of fresh basil leaves
I have made one tweak to my mother’s traditional recipe, which she doesn’t approve of. I am a technologist, and I know that cooked pasta is water-based, and when you pair it with an oil-based sauce the sauce naturally wants to slide away. I add a little bit of lecithin, an emulsifier, to the sauce. Now the sauce is attracted to and clings to the pasta, and this actually gives you even more flavour in every mouthful.
You are going to have two pans going at the same time, one cooking the pasta and one cooking the sauce. You will need to time it so that you have the pasta water ready and boiling, and you add the spaghetti to it just after you start cooking the tomatoes for the sauce.
Put the water and salt into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. At the same time stir lecithin and olive oil together in a large frying pan before placing on a medium heat. Add garlic and cook until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes until softened and juicy, stirring occasionally.
Just after you add the tomatoes to the frying pan, add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook according to the packet instructions.
Drain the cooked spaghetti and add to the pan of tomatoes. Stir very well, making sure the sauce reaches all of the spaghetti. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the basil.
Divide pasta and sauce between serving plates, drizzle with oil, and serve.
Cook's notes: this recipe relies heavily on the quality of the tomatoes. I have to say that in Naples we have the best tomatoes of course, and they are hung in the sun to dry after picking, which concentrates the flavour. Here in New Zealand, you should cook this dish at the height of the tomato season, when the tomatoes are at their most juicy and sweet.
Lecithin can be bought at health food shops and some supermarkets.