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Spaghetti with Salsa di Pomodoro

Cooking the carrots, onion and celery in butter, a mixture known as a soffritto, imparts a mild, sweet flavor to this simple sauce. But the primary component is still tomato, which means using vine-ripened plum tomatoes in summer and the best-quality canned tomatoes, such as Italy’s superb San Marzano variety, the rest of the year. To make a creamy tomato sauce, stir in 1/2 cup heavy cream once the sauce has thickened and simmer for 5 minutes more.

Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) plus 1 Tbs. unsalted butter  
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped 
  • 1 small celery stalk, finely chopped 
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped 
  • 2 lb. fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or 1 can (28 oz.) chopped plum tomatoes, drained
  • 1 tsp. plus 2 Tbs. sea salt, plus more, to taste 
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper, plus more, to taste 
  • 1 lb. spaghetti 
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces 
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving 

Directions:

In a large fry pan over medium heat, melt the 4 Tbs. butter. Add the carrots, celery and onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened and the carrots and celery are tender, about 15 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, the 1 tsp. salt and the 1/8 tsp. pepper and cook until the sauce begins to bubble. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

While the sauce simmers, bring a large pot three-fourths full of water to a rolling boil and add the 2 Tbs. salt. Add the spaghetti, stir well and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, according to the package instructions. Scoop out and reserve about 2 ladlefuls of the cooking water, then drain the pasta.

Add the drained pasta to the sauce in the pan and stir and toss over low heat until well coated with the sauce, adjusting the consistency with some of the cooking water if needed. Add the basil and the remaining 1 Tbs. butter and toss to distribute evenly. Remove from the heat, add the 1/2 cup cheese and toss again. Transfer to a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately, passing additional cheese at the table. Serves 4 to 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Italian by Michele Scicolone (Oxmoor House, 2007).