Photo courtesy of Anjali Pinto

The secret ingredient in Doug Psaltis’s pasta pomodoro is time. At the Chicago chef’s modern Italian restaurant, RPM Italian, he builds the tomato sauce slowly to create a pasta course that tastes of just-picked tomatoes and fresh herbs. But Psaltis can’t take all the credit for the palate-pleasing dish: He snagged the recipe from the Italian mother of one of RPM’s owners. The finished dish benefits from the collaboration between the chef and Mama DePandi. It is simple and clean and tastes of Italian tradition at heart.

Mama DePandi's Bucatini Pomodoro

Recipe adapted from Doug Psaltis, RPM Italian, Chicago

  • Makes 4 to 6 main-course servings
  • Start to Finish: 1 hour

Ingredients

Pomodoro Sauce

One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about ½ cup)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

4 basil sprigs

Pasta

¾ pound fresh bucatini pasta

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 garlic cloves

Pinch of red-pepper flakes

1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

1 tablespoon torn basil leaves, plus more for garnish

1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

1. Make the sauce: In a strainer set over a medium bowl, drain the tomatoes. Crush the tomatoes with your hands, let the juice release into the bowl, and set aside the juice and strained tomatoes.

2. In a medium skillet set over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the reserved tomatoes, sugar and salt. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have softened and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Add the reserved tomato juice and bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat, add the basil and set aside.

3. Make the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water.

4. Meanwhile, in a large skillet set over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and a pinch of red-pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

5. Remove the basil from the tomato sauce, then add the sauce to the skillet. Simmer until warmed through. Add the pasta to the skillet and toss to coat, thinning the sauce with the pasta cooking water, if needed.

6. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the Parmesan, basil and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the pasta to a serving dish and garnish with additional cheese and basil, if desired. Serve immediately.

Finishing Touches

It's the details that count! Try these tips

  • Stop by RPM Italian next time you’re in Chicago.

  • Bucatini is a long, tubular pasta (“buca” means “hole” in Italian) that’s fairly easy to find in stores, but you can swap in spaghetti. Additionally, while the chef suggests using fresh pasta for this dish, dried pasta would work just fine.

  • Use Italian-inspired serving ware for extra impact.

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