Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico and the Crappy Tomatoes

by cakeduchess on September 5, 2010 · 8 comments

This is my go-to pasta dish. We eat an exorbitant amount of pasta here. In our house, there is no fear of carbs and we do not have gluten issues. We don’t run from carbs, we embrace them. To us, a meal without carbs is well, not a meal. Last summer my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law were here for a month. They cooked for us every night. They planted a garden. Nonna Antonia woke up one morning at 7 a.m. and declared, “Vado fuori a zappare.” Translation: I am going outside to hoe. Out she went in her black skirt (she is in mourning) and purple polyester shirt and asked for a shovel. She was 82 at the time. I was standing there barely awake trying to ingest my caffe’ latte as fast as possible to better comprehend what she was asking. I thought she was kidding. She was serious. Nonna proceeded to go out front and she started to prep the land. That meant, tear apart 1/2 of one section of our front yard Neighbors were whispering to each other. I quickly finished chugging my caffe’ latte and grabbed my camera. I was beginning to wonder if I should stop photographing the event and start digging with her. I offered my assistance and she told me in uncertain terms to back off. Seriously, she didn’t need my help.  Nonna Antonia grows every thing and makes every thing from scratch. She has the most amazing olive trees in Calabria. Tears are trickling down my cheeks just thinking of her olives and olive oil. Her husband, Nonno Giuseppe, passed away two years ago. My father-in-law and mother-in-law go to Calabria every year to help take care of the olives. Luckily, we get care packages a few times a year with olives in freeze-dried packages.

One of the important things they taught me that month was how to can tomatoes. We went to my little vegetable market (it’s Latino, of course), and bought about 20 lbs of plum tomatoes. My mother-in-law was glancing furtively at the Latina girls while fondling the tomatoes and mumbling in Calabrese to me, “These tomatoes are awful. They have no color. They aren’t like our tomatoes. ” For obvious reasons, I was feeling uncomfortable. I knew the girls couldn’t understand her, but it was the way she was handling the tomatoes. They knew their tomatoes weren’t good enough for this foreigner speaking in a funny language. I offered her to go to another market, but she didn’t want to waste time. We had canning to do. We canned tomatoes for one whole afternoon. Even though the tomatoes were of questionable quality, those canned tomatoes we made rocked!

My canned tomatoes from last May are long gone. Every once and a while I think of making them again. It just won’t be the same without the nonnas. I still frequent my Latino market and stock up on tomatoes once a week. Last night I made a quick Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico. It is easier to make than you might think. If there is one Italian dish you could learn to make, this should be it.

Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico
for 4-6 people

1 lb spaghetti (I use Barilla or De Cecco)
10 to 12 fresh plum tomatoes (approximately 2 to 2 1/2 pounds)
4 ounces extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional extra-virgin olive oil, optional
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
freshly chopped basil leaves

Bring pot of water to a boil. After the water has come to a boil, add salt to the water (about a teaspoon of salt per quart of water). Add spaghetti and cook until al dente. There is nothing worse than mushy pasta. While pasta is boiling, cook your sauce.

Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Saute’ chopped onion until translucent (about 3 minutes).

Add chopped plum tomatoes and cook approximately 5 minutes. Add salt to taste. Add chopped basil and extra virgin olive oil if desired, just before using.
Drain the pasta and add the fresh tomato sauce. You could save some of the pasta water and add to the tomato sauce if it is a little dry.

Sprinkle on some parmesan (we use Parmegiano Reggiano D.O.P. -it is the best!).


If you ever feel like you can’t get out of bed to go exercise. If you ever feel like you need to skip that spin class because you have to go get a Tall Mocha Latte at Starbucks…remember this image of an 82 your old nonna working the land. Get your butt out there and do exercise! lol.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

My Little Space September 5, 2010 at 7:41 am

My family ate lots of tomatoes especially my kids. We used them mostly in spaghetti and sweet & sour dish! Love it so much. Your spaghetti looks fantastic. Hope you’re enjoying your weekend.
Cheers, kristy


chefswife September 5, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Thank you Kristy:)


Kath September 5, 2010 at 1:50 pm

What a beautiful post about your Nonna! And a beautiful photo of your spaghetti al pomodoro. We love simple pasta dishes. When the fresh tomatoes are bad, I like to slow roast good quality canned tomatoes in olive oil to use with pasta.


chefswife September 7, 2010 at 1:15 am

Hi Kath-Thank you for your compliments. :)I like your idea about roasting the canned tomatoes.


Anna September 7, 2010 at 4:58 am

Awwww, the italian grandmothers, I sure miss mine. She was also fearless, and cooked like an angel. All the time I see a truly italian cooking I feel like packing my luggages and moving, to be surrounded by the olive trees and the beautiful veggies. And I’m definitely not afraid of carbs, as a matter of fact carbs are my natural prozac. LOL, Beautiful pasta.


Megan October 19, 2010 at 9:59 pm

Love the story! You’ve given me an idea for the last of this year’s tomato crop. YUM!


Erika K July 14, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Oh…this is making me want to go out and hug my tomato plants! :)

Too bad the tomatoes themselves are still all green right now. Won’t be long and I can use them for this recipe. In the meantime, I’ll have to do with my regular grocery store tomatoes. However, we have quite a bit of good looking basil out there right now.

We do cook gluten free in my house, and I’m a carboholic, but we have some pretty good pasta. I can indulge pretty well with a recipe like this! Love the story and picture. I’ll need to get my butt out to the garden, today. :)

Erika K

Cuisinart 14 cup food processor


Julia August 10, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Do you peel your tomatoes before making this dish? This is one I grew up with and, since I have fresh tomatoes right now, I might just make this tonight! :)


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