Pasta alla checca recipe

pasta alla checca (raw tomato sauce)

When people tell me they don’t know how to cook, I know what they really mean.  They mean to say they don’t know how to cook well off the fly or they don’t have a deep repertoire of dishes that they can prepare with ease.  I say if you can read, you can cook.  Furthermore, most people can cook something they ate as a child, if nothing else.  If I learned zip about cooking and never stepped foot in a kitchen after I left home, I would at least be able to make Pasta alla Checca.

I actually got a little choked up in a class last month when I reminisced about how I ate this pasta dish weekly during the summers of my youth.  Pasta alla Checca is nothing more than pasta with a raw tomato and basil sauce.  Sounds simple, but the success of the dish relies on the quality of the tomatoes.  If you have divine tomatoes, the pasta will be fabulous.  If not, it will be forgettable.  Therefore, I implore you only to make this dish in the summer when tomatoes have a chance of being splendid.  If you make this dish in January with pale, dreary tomatoes and email me that you don’t know why this didn’t taste like very much, I might just direct you back to this post.

We always had beautiful, tasty tomatoes and basil growing in the backyard and this was an easy weeknight dish for my mom to pull together after a day at the beach or if was too hot to do too much in the kitchen.  My mom was not one for creating extra work for herself, but she always insisted on peeling the tomatoes for this dish.  I have made it both ways and she is totally right — peeling the tomatoes is worth every minute of the 5 minutes it will take you.  When the tomatoes are without their skins, they release more of their juices and flavors and everything just tastes so much richer and more…tomato-y!  My mom used to buy that atrocious plastic-wrapped Polly-O mozzarrella, cube it and marinate it in the tomato mixture while she was cooking the pasta.  When the hot pasta hit the cheese, it melted ever so slightly and yours truly would fight her sisters for it.  If you decide to go this route, keep in mind the garlic cloves are crushed in the sauce and tend to look very much like melted mozzarrella, so you might want to pull out the garlic before serving.

 

pasta alla checca (raw tomato sauce)

If you are not eating tomatoes right now, you’re missing out.  Even if you don’t eat pasta, make the tomato mixture and put it on top of any number of things — steamed green beans, grilled eggplant, grilled bread, poached or grilled fish or chicken.  The season is short and fleeting and nothing says summer like a real sunkissed vineripened tomato.  To this day, just the aroma of this tomato and basil mixture immediately makes me think summer.  The good news is, you still have plenty of summer left to enjoy it.

pasta alla checca (raw tomato sauce)

Pasta Alla Checca
Author: 
Serves: 4-6
 
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes, about 6 medium (or more if you like a high ratio of tomatoes to pasta)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ¼ cup torn or sliced fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ cup unrefined, cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste (I think ¾ teaspoon is about right.)
  • 1 pound dried pasta (I like a pasta which catches the tomatoes, such as orrecchiette or conchiglie. My mom always made it with spaghetti.)
  • Kosher salt to season the pasta water
Instructions
  1. In a pot large enough to fit the tomatoes, fill ¾ with water and bring to a boil ("instant hot" from your sink won't work, already tried it.) Cutting through the skin, make an “x” on the bottom of each tomato with a knife. Turn the heat off and submerge the tomatoes in the water for 20-30 seconds, depending on the size of the tomatoes. Remove the tomatoes from the water with a slotted spoon and place on a cutting board. Peel (non-negotiable), core, seed (if you want) and chop the tomatoes.
  2. Place the tomatoes in a serving bowl. Add the garlic, basil, olive oil, and a few healthy pinches of sea salt to taste. Toss to combine.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 Tablespoon kosher salt. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions or until al dente. Remove 1 cup pasta cooking water and reserve (you won't need it if your tomatoes are juicy.) Drain the pasta. Immediately add to the serving bowl with the tomatoes and toss to combine, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid if necessary to moisten the pasta. Remove garlic before serving, if desired.

 

Chickpea and deconstructed pesto salad

Summer around my house is very loosey-goosey.  We lack a bit of structure when school is not in session.  On any given night, it varies who will be here for dinner and I often find myself cooking for either just two people or for an army.  This can be tricky for me since I make my menu for the week every Sunday night, but over the years I have also learned how to be flexible and not anxious if I have enough fish for 5 and all of a sudden we’re down to 2.

Daughter #1 and I found ourselves solo for dinner last night, but it was late and neither one of us had the motivation to do anything more than open a can of chickpeas.  Of course we’re girls and we are just fine eating a meal without meat and still calling it dinner.  We made this chickpea salad and grilled up some zucchini, because who can eat a meal without zucchini in it these days?  It’s taking over the world!!  Remind me next spring not to plant so much.  And the two of us stood at the kitchen counter leaning over the salad bowl shoveling in spoonful after spoonful of chickpea salad, exclaiming “this is so good!” after every bite, alternating with dropping ribbons of grilled zucchini in our mouths.

This is hands-down the easiest salad you will ever make and if you are growing your own basil, you likely already have everything you need to put this together in five minutes.  Thank goodness for pantry staples!  This is fabulous to bring to a barbeque or picnic since you can make it ahead and nothing happens to it.  It’s even great the next day.  Last night I added halved cherry tomatoes at the last minute and I have also thrown in chopped, blanched green beans to make it more substantial.  Be forewarned, there is a nice punch of raw garlic which I love, but if you don’t care to eat garlic, you can just smash it and add it for a subtle undertone.  The idea is to make a salad with all the flavors of pesto without having to make pesto.  Actually, the idea of this salad is to barely do anything at all, but still eat something utterly delish.

Chickpea and Deconstructed Pesto Salad
Author: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 3 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 15-ounce cans, rinsed and drained
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 3-4 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
  • 3 Tablespoons unrefined cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt or to taste
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • ⅓ cup grated pecorino-romano (sheep's milk cheese) or parmesan cheese (cow's milk cheese)
Instructions
  1. Combine all salad ingredients in a serving bowl and toss well to combine. That's it!
Notes
Also delicious with halved cherry tomatoes (see lead photo), arugula and/or blanched green beans. I added some thinly sliced radicchio once and that was nice, too.

 

Corn and edamame succotash

This house sure is quiet.  The girls are still in Connecticut and Mr. Picky is off at the batting cage for a little bit with his dad.  I don’t think I’ve been alone in my house in a year.  Or more.  It’s sooooooooo nice.  Don’t get me wrong.  I adore my kids and my husband, but solitude is a precious luxury that I never get to indulge in.  And silence.  Just heaven.  I find it funny that all this peace and quiet makes me hungry, so I give myself permission to make an early dinner for me and only me.  It never happens that I only have my cravings to consider for dinner.  I think being conscientious of many people’s likes and dislikes is a big challenge when planning meals for a family.  But not tonight!

At yesterday’s farmer’s market I scooped up two of my summer favorites — corn and tomatoes.  I was especially excited about the tomatoes since my plants won’t be producing fruit any time soon.  Unfortunately, Manhattan Beach does not have tomato weather.  The parsley and basil are doing beautifully in the garden, though and if I am lucky enough to have frozen shelled edamame in the freezer and turkey bacon in the fridge, corn and edamame succotash will be my dinner tonight.

Hooray!  It’s all here!  I secretly hope that my husband and Mr. Picky call me and ask if they can grab a bite out instead of home.  I have visions of me and a giant bowl of corn and edamame succotash in front of the tv watching the new episode of “Million Dollar Decorators” without my husband doing Martyn Lawrence Bullard impressions so that I can’t hear what anyone is saying.  Am I getting old that this is my idea of bliss tonight?  Don’t care.  I’ve got succotash to make.

I taught this recipe in my classes last August and I got great feedback, although people admitted they were skeptical of eating something called “succotash.”  True, not a very sexy name, but succotash really just means a few sauteed vegetables usually mixed with corn and lima beans.  I had found a recipe from an old Gourmet Magazine (sniffle) and changed it up a bit to suit my family, and I just love it.  Since my kids are crazy for edamame, I always have bags of it in the freezer.  That was a natural sub for the lima beans.  It makes such a nice side dish for a weeknight family dinner or for entertaining in the summer, or a main dish since it is loaded with protein.  It’s so tasty, as well as colorful, nutritious, and quick to put together, especially if your kids shuck the corn for you.  Even by myself, I pulled this together very quickly.  You definitely don’t need to use turkey bacon in this if you are vegetarian or just don’t like it, but I would compensate with a pinch of salt.  As I sat there on the couch, by myself, eating this gorgeous succotash, I was able to concentrate on the food and really enjoy it.  I couldn’t help but think how much I loved the crunch of the corn and edamame and the sweetness from the tomatoes.  Couple more bites.  The apple cider vinegar adds great tang and the smoky, salty flavor from the turkey bacon is perfectly complementary.    Another few bites.  I can’t believe there’s no salt.  Yes, the edamame were cooked in salted water and the bacon has salt, but there’s no added salt and I don’t miss it.  A few more bites.  This is supposed to serve 6-8?  Is that a typo?  I’m halfway done with the bowl, but I keep eating anyway.

“Hi Mom!  We’re home!”  Well, it was nice while it lasted.  Mr. Picky asks for some succotash.  “Hey, that looks good.”  Really?  Tonight is the night you decide not to be picky?

5.0 from 2 reviews
Corn and Edamame Succotash
Author: 
Serves: 6-8 as a side dish
 
Ingredients
  • 12 ounces frozen shelled edamame
  • Kosher salt
  • ¼ - ½ pound nitrate-free turkey bacon*(optional)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • ¾ lb cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 ears corn, kernels cut off cob
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup packed small fresh basil leaves or larger leaves chopped
  • ¼ cup packed flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
Instructions
  1. In a medium pot of boiling salted water, cook edamame 5 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.
  2. Chop bacon. Add oil to a large skillet and cook bacon over medium heat until starting to crisp, 3-5 minutes. Add onion and sauté until softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Don’t worry if the bottom of the pan is getting brown from the bacon. The acid from the vinegar and tomatoes will clean it up.
  3. Add tomatoes, corn and vinegar to the skillet. Cook, stirring until tomatoes begin to lose their shape. Stir in edamame. Remove skillet from heat and stir in herbs. Serve immediately.
Notes
*Or bacon can be cooked separately a 350 degree oven. Line a baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper and arrange the bacon slices in one layer. Bake for 20 minutes, turning once, until slightly crispy. Chop cooked bacon and add with edamame.

 

Basil Parsley Pesto Recipe

 

basil-parsley pesto | pamela salzman

I am willing to bet that I have eaten more pesto in my life than all of you.  Let me give you a little background.  My father has an expert green thumb and has maintained amazing gardens throughout my life.  Every year, he plants one large plot with a wide variety of beautiful vegetables, including tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, green beans, cucumbers, arugula, kale, and so on.  And he also plants one plot of basil.  Just basil.  And every year he has so many basil plants that he has to give them away.  Same story this year.  “Pamela.  I have enough basil plants for all of New York.”  I know what you’re thinking.  Why does your father overplant basil every year?  Trust me, don’t ask.

Well, it’s a good thing we all liked basil growing up!  Because as you might imagine, we were putting it on everything, from our morning eggs to tomato salads to sauteed green beans to macerated strawberries.  But using a few handfuls of green leaves everyday was not putting a dent into our basil farm.  My father would rant and rave (in Italian).  “Do we not eat basil in this house?  I planted so much beautiful basil and no one eats it.  Mah!”  I can still picture the kitchen sink most summer mornings with freshly cut bushes of basil.  “Pamela, if we don’t pick it now, it will turn to seed and then the plant will die.”  Really?  Well I heard you can die from a basil overdose.

My mother had no choice but to turn to pesto.  What better way to use an overabundance of the herb?  Mom pulled out the blender and ground up pine nuts and fresh garlic.  She packed down as much basil as would fit, sprinkled it with salt and with the motor running, slowly poured in the olive oil.  That distinctive aroma would fill the house and still today reminds me of the summers of my youth.  Next came the grated parmesan cheese and we had glorious pesto.  I say glorious, because my sisters and I loved it.  I think my mother probably would have started drinking hard liquor if we didn’t.

Lucky for me that I married someone who loves pesto and gave birth to kids who do, too.  We put it on lots of things — pasta, sandwiches, grilled vegetables, ho-hum chicken or fish, minestrone soup, scrambled eggs, boiled potatoes, pizza and so on.  But I make it my own way with a combination of pine nuts and walnuts; pecorino-romano, which is made from sheep’s milk cheese and a little easier for some to digest than cow’s milk; and dare I say, with half basil and half parsley.  I am obsessed with parsley, which I consider a superfood.  It is loaded with chloropyhll and incredibly rich in nutrients from iron to calcium to Vitamin C.  But parsley also contains some interesting volatile oil compounds that are considered to be “chemoprotective,” which means they can help neutralize certain carcinogens.  The flavor of a basil-parsley pesto is still dominated by basil, but somehow a little lighter.  I actually prefer it to an all-basil pesto.  Of course, the real reason I even started to do half and half is because I always manage to plant way too much parsley.

basil-parsley pesto | pamela salzman

Basil-Parsley Pesto
Author: 
Serves: makes 2 cups
 
Ingredients
  • makes 2 cups
  • ¼ cup raw walnuts
  • ¼ cup raw pine nuts
  • 1 ½ - 2 Tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 ½ cups basil leaves, lightly packed
  • 2 ½ cups flat-leaf parsley leaves, lightly packed
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • couple of grinds of black pepper
  • 1 cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup grated pecorino-romano or parmesan cheese**
Instructions
  1. Place the walnuts, pine nuts, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until finely chopped.
  2. Add the basil and parsley leaves, salt and pepper. Start the food processor and slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is finely pureed. Add the parmesan cheese and puree until well blended. Pesto freezes beautifully.
Notes
**To make a dairy-free/vegan version, eliminate the salt and cheese and substitute ¼ cup brown rice miso or other hearty miso. Taste for salt.