Pasta with Homemade Tomato Sauce and Ricotta.
Pasta con pomodoro fresco e ricotta.
Italian cuisine is mostly based on fresh ingredients and simple recipes. Of course, there are fancy dishes for special occasions and Michelin star restaurants here but, on a day to day basis Italians eat clean and simple. The best example of Italian simple Italian food has to be homemade tomato sauce (sugo). This is the number one condiment for pasta throughout Italy. It is loved by children and adults alike. In fact, there are many Italians who eat pasta with homemade tomato sauce more than once a week and it’s a staple for Italian children!
Tomato sauce in Italian cooking.
In the Italian kitchen, tomato sauce is the base for many well-known recipes, not just pasta ones (think eggplant parmigiana, meatballs, beef olives (braciole), baked rice, Sicilian arancini etc).
Many Italians make their own tomato sugo. Some use canned or bottled passata or peeled tomatoes. Others use fresh tomatoes. It’s still very traditional for Italian cooks and housewives to make their own passata in the summer months when tomatoes are at their best. They then store it in glass jars to be used in the winter. Many also make tomato sauce from scratch when a recipe calls for it. I don’t know any Italians who buy ready-made sugo. By this I mean, sauce that has already had herbs and garlic or onions added to it.
The classic Italian tomato sauce.
The classic Italian tomato sauce has only a couple of ingredients. Apart from the tomatoes or passata, the most popular are just garlic and basil, although some people use onions instead of garlic. A few use both. Because fresh basil is a summer herb, some Italians add oregano to their tomato sauce when basil isn’t available. When cooking tomato sauce for pasta it’s possible to add other ingredients such as finely chopped celery and carrots. This isn’t so common though.
A little tomato sauce history!
Nowadays, it’s impossible to imagine Italian cuisine without tomatoes! So, I think it’s ironic that tomatoes have only been eaten in Italy since the 16th century. The tomato was first brought to Europe from Latin America by the Spanish, who were also the first Europeans to start cooking and eating them.
In Italy, tomatoes were looked upon with suspicion and considered poisonous. They were used mostly as ornamental plants until the Spanish, who controlled much of Southern Italy during the 16th and 17th century taught the Italians how to cook them.
By the 18th century Italians had started to preserve tomatoes, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that pizza Margherita, pasta al Pomodoro and other Italian dishes with tomatoes started to become popular! Today tomatoes are the quintessential Italian ingredient and pasta with homemade tomato sauce the most eaten pasta dish.
Different kinds of tomatoes.
Today, Italians grow many different kinds of tomatoes. The most well-known for sauce is San Marzano, but tomato sugo can be and is made with other types of tomatoes. In fact, there are about 20 tomato varieties that are used to make sugo. Some of these are grown in certain regions and not widely available, such as Prunill tomatoes from Puglia or the Pizzutello tomato which is grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius in Campania and in Sicily.
I like to use small tomatoes such as datterini (date tomatoes) and cherry tomatoes. For this pasta with homemade tomato sauce I used cherry tomatoes. The important thing when using fresh tomatoes is that they are ripe (strong red colour) and you need to blanch and peel them if they have thick skins. Small tomatoes tend to have thin skins, so I don’t peel them.
Other ingredients for your pasta with homemade tomato sauce.
Apart from the sugo, it’s possible to serve pasta with homemade tomato sauce with other ingredients including different vegetables or seafood. Cheese is of course ubiquitous. Most Italians add some kind of grated hard cheese to their pasta with tomato sauce. However, soft cheese is also popular. In this recipe I added creamed fresh ricotta. I didn’t mix the ricotta with the sauce but put it into the bottom of the bowl and placed the pasta with homemade tomato sauce on top. It was wonderful, but you can serve this dish without it.
My choice of pasta was spaccatelle, one of my favourite Sicilian pasta types. However, you can make this recipe with almost any kind of pasta. Traditionally it’s most often served with spaghetti or penne.
If you make this recipe, I’d love to hear what you think. You can comment and rate this recipe here on the blog or on The Pasta Project Facebook page. Looking forward to hearing from you!
(See the recipe on the next page. Just scroll down and click 2)