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Fresh Tomato Pasta Sauce
by Charlie Burke

I had planned to write my
favorite recipe for barbecued
ribs this week, but as I picked
basil for our farmers’ market yesterday I found it had reached its peak. The
leaves in one week had become large with a smooth sheen, and their scent filled
our greenhouse. We have been buying perfect tomatoes, grown by Katie and
Steve Surowiec at Surowiec Farm here in Sanbornton, for the past few weeks, so I
decided to have our favorite summer pasta for dinner: a simple uncooked sauce
of tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil which perfectly blends their flavors.
Variations of this sauce are served all over Italy as soon as tomatoes are ripe.        

My wife, Joanne, plants and cares for our basil and two
years ago was frustrated with the wrinkled leaves
and slow growth of that year’s crop. In early July,
she dug them all up and transplanted well over
a hundred plants into our greenhouse! Planted
directly into compost rich soil, they doubled
in size in less than two weeks and produced huge
quantities for the remainder of the summer.

We plant Genovese basil, the classic ingredient
in Ligurian pesto and which we think best highlights
great heirloom tomatoes. I was surprised while reading
Slow Food* article about cultivation of basil in the area
around Genoa; these Italians are passionate about pesto and insist the best basil
is grown in a small area north of Genoa in greenhouses at 111 degrees! It is now
clear that Joanne intuitively made the right decision in moving that entire crop,
and we will always grow our basil at high temperature.

In making this sauce use only the best tomatoes, garlic and basil, all of which are
appearing now in local farmers’ markets and farm stands. The key to any recipe
which simply combines a few elements is to use only the highest quality
ingredients, which here includes the olive oil and salt. We use our best extra
virgin oil, and, to my taste,
sea salt adds a bright taste that uniquely ties it all

For 4 -6 servings:

1 pound thin pasta (angel hair or spaghettini)
3 large fully ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic
2 – 3 teaspoons sea salt
1 ½ cups basil leaves
Freshly ground black pepper.

Bring at least 6 quarts of water to a boil, adding 2 tablespoons salt once it
reaches a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook for 5 – 7 minutes or until barely

The sauce can be made in the time the water is coming to the boil. Place olive oil
and tomatoes into a large bowl and toss to distribute the oil. Chop the garlic and
mix it with the salt. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the garlic to a paste, or, on
the cutting board, use the side of a chef’s knife to mash the garlic, dragging the
knife back and forth. Add the garlic and salt to the tomatoes. Either tear the basil
into small pieces or roll the leaves and cut across to into thin slices; mix with
tomatoes. Grind pepper to taste and add salt if needed.

Drain the pasta, add to the bowl of sauce, toss well and serve immediately. We
make this more than any other pasta in the summer and frequently serve it to
friends who usually take the recipe home and make it their own. Note that this is
one of the rare tomato pasta sauces where no cheese should be used.

Slow Food is a committed international organization which celebrates local
foods, and whose goal is the preservation of traditional food production and

About the author:  An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the
vice president of the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association (
org) and helps run the Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne,
he grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in
Sanbornton, NH.
Fresh Tomato Pasta Sauce
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