Sometimes the simplest things are the best. This pasta and sauce is a prime example of how the most humble ingredients can come together to make an outstanding dish. My tomato plants are coming to the end of their life cycle, and the herbs are looking a bit sad too. The next few weeks will be prime time to harvest what I can from my little garden and set it aside before the real cold weather arrives. I made a basic tomato sauce, seasoned only with salt and some fresh basil. Fresh, handmade pasta is a real treat; it's not something I make often. But it is the perfect partner for this sweet, flavorful sauce. Topped with only a little Parmesan cheese, it needs no further embellishment. Both components take a little time, but it's time well spent. One morning's work will bring the taste of summer to our table well into the autumn and winter.
(makes enough for 3 to 4 servings)
1 1/2 cups flour (9 ounces)
3 large eggs
Place the flour in medium bowl. Make a deep well in the center and add the lightly beaten eggs. With your fingers, slowly incorporate flour from the edge of the well into the eggs until a soft dough is formed. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it until the texture is soft and velvety smooth (the term "baby's bottom" comes to mind here). Add a little flour as you work if it seems excessively sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest for 30 to 60 minutes. This is important to ensure a light texture. Cut into 4 equal portions and roll them through your pasta machine to the next to last setting (number 6 on my hand-cranked Olympia machine). Flour the dough sheets as necessary to prevent sticking. Cut the pasta sheets to the length you prefer, then pass them through the fettuccine cutter. Separate the strands and toss with a little more flour. At this point you can freeze any pasta that you will not be using immediately. To cook fresh pasta, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add a generous amount of salt, then toss in the pasta. Stir with a large fork to keep the strands from sticking together. Cook until tender, which will only take 3 or 4 minutes. Drain well, toss with a little butter or olive oil and serve with the sauce of your choice.
Homemade Tomato Sauce
(makes about 4 cups)
4 pounds tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large white onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Freshly ground pepper
Heat the olive oil in large pot or straight-sided saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and a large pinch of salt, and saute until softened and slightly colored, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 2 to 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes. Bring to a moderate simmer and cook for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the tomatoes have broken down to a chunky sauce. The liquid should be thick and the flavor rich and intense. Add a 1/2 teaspoon more salt, pepper to taste (if you like) and check the seasoning. If you like a spicy edge to your sauce, add a pinch of red pepper flakes as well. You can leave the sauce as is or blend it to a smoother texture with an immersion blender. Use the sauce in any of your favorite recipes adding fresh chopped herbs as you reheat it. Basil, parsley, rosemary, marjoram and mint are all good additions, depending upon what type of dish you are cooking. Freeze the sauce for longer storage, in 1 to 2 cup portions.