San Marzano Pasta – A Recipe

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Last summer, I took a cooking class at Kitchen Window in Uptown on How to Cook from Your CSA Box with my friend Jared.

While the instructor was a former chef and owner of a local CSA that neither of us subscribed to, it didn’t matter. The class was more about using seasonal produce and becoming more confident in our own cooking. The young instructor’s experience and expertise was impressive. The #1 thing I learned from that class:

NEVER apologize for your cooking.

I’m a novice cook. So I’m always afraid of how something new is going to turn out. When I plop something in front of my husband, I start out by telling him why I’m not sure this or that worked or if I under or overcooked something.

This is wrong!

Repeating these words and apologizing only reinforces our cooking insecurities, creating the fear to try something again. Instead, our instructor said, if someone has anything to complain about our cooking, they can do the cooking next time. Gotta love that.

When I made the San Marzano Pasta that was demonstrated in that class, my husband was so impressed that he said I could take cooking classes any time because I just keep getting better.

Note: My husband does not cook nor does he have any interest in ever cooking. Furthermore, he’d rather go out to dinner any night of the week. So this comment is a huge step – in both his willingness to eat at home and my cooking ability.

While there were many different dishes demonstrated (and eaten) in this class, the one that stood out most to me was this San Marzano Pasta.

Rob and I spent our Honeymoon on the Amalfi Coast, where we discovered what just may be the best tomatoes in the world! I am a huge lover of tomatoes. When I embarked on an adventure to a healthier lifestyle over a year ago, I started adding more fruit and vegetables to my diet. It was then that I was reminded how much I love tomatoes… so much that I wondered why I didn’t have them in my kitchen at all times. If I love them so much and they are a healthy addition to my diet, there is no reason why they shouldn’t have a permanent place in my home!

On the other hand, Rob is not a fan of my adored fruit. But, over the years, he’s actually grown to appreciate them in certain contexts.

Still, he enjoyed every single tomato and tomato sauce on our Honeymoon like it was something sacred.

He, too, fell in love with San Marzano tomatoes.

What makes them different? Well, in my opinion, the flavor is just better. But that is not a good enough description for you, I’m sure. Some say that the flavor is sweeter. However, the reason I don’t like that description is that I absolutely hate sweet marinara sauces in restaurants. {These are generally made by adding sugar to the sauce, but when someone describes tomatoes as sweet, that’s the flavor I think of.} They are also said to be less acidic.

And while the San Marzano tomato variety can be grown here in the U.S., the best tomatoes come from Italy. Why?

Because they are grown in volcanic soil – near Mount Vesuvius in the Campania region! This is the reason I believe that these tomatoes taste so much better. While on our Honeymoon, every tomato and tomato sauce we tried was divine. There, they didn’t even label their tomatoes as San Marzano. They didn’t have to. They were just the local tomatoes, and I believe the volcanic soil they were grown in had something to do with the difference.

But you can buy canned San Marzanos here in the States! And yes, they still taste phenomenal.

San Marzano tomatoes

You can get canned San Marzanos in your regular grocery store! Sometimes they are near the other canned tomatoes and tomato sauces. Other times you’ll find them in the ethnic and specialty foods aisle. There are many brands out there and it really doesn’t matter which one you get. Just make sure that they not only say “San Marzano” on the label, but that they also state they are from Italy.  There is often a map on the back of the can highlighting the San Marzano region in Italy they come from. 😉 A 28-ounce can runs around $3.50 to $4.50 per can. Yes, they are a bit more than your average can of tomatoes.

But they are so worth it.

A couple of times, my grocery store has been out of them, so when I see there are more than a few cans on the shelf, I stock up! A few times, I found them cheaper at a all-natural specialty food store than my regular local Cub Foods or SuperTarget. And most recently, I got a steal on a three-pack of them at Costco. Of course, we bought two of those three-packs… just in case.

To make the San Marzano pasta, you will need the following ingredients:

Clockwise, from top left: extra virgin olive oil, pasta, San Marzano tomatoes, fresh garlic, fresh mozzarella, cilantro. Not pictured: salt.

With these ingredients, you may have to play around with the ratios to see what’s right for you. It took me a while to find how we like it best. I usually just grab what I have on hand and improvise. For those of you who know me, this is a big deal! I’m more of a recipe follower, so it’s a big step for me to just wing it. I’ve given some suggested quantities in the recipe at the end of this post. But use it as a guide, taste often, and decide how you like it best.

San Marzano Pasta

Start by pre-heating your oven and bringing a pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Then heat the olive oil in an oven-safe skillet on medium high heat. Put a small piece of chopped garlic in the pan. Once it starts to sizzle, the pan is ready and you can add the rest of the garlic. Cook it for a few minutes, but watch so that it doesn’t burn.

After it starts to brown a bit, to stop the garlic from cooking, add your can of San Marzano tomatoes, juices and all. Your can may come with a lone basil leaf in it! It is up to you whether you want to leave it in your sauce or take it out.

Break up the tomatoes with a spatula so that they are no longer whole. This way, it’ll become more of a sauce. Once it becomes bubbly, turn the heat down a bit and let it simmer until the pasta is almost ready.

TIP #1: Do not cook your pasta all the way!

Any kind of pasta will do. I believe our cooking class instructor used penne. However, my husband’s favorite is angel hair pasta, so I use that whenever possible. {Although I find shorter styles easier to serve!} Cook the pasta according to package directions, only just shy of al dente. For example, if the package says 7 minutes for al dente, I cook it for 5 minutes.

Why?

You are going to finish cooking the pasta in the sauce! If the pasta is cooked completely, by the time you let it mix with the sauce, it will become mushy. And who likes mushy pasta?

TIP #2: Do not add all of the pasta to the sauce at once!

You want to make sure that you have the correct pasta to sauce ratio for you. I once added a whole box of pasta and was left with very little sauce. Add your pasta a little bit at a time until you have the right ratio. Any leftover cooked pasta can be used to make a pasta salad or used for another dinner. I’ve found that my pasta to sauce ratio is a 28-ounce can of tomatoes to just shy of 8 ounces of uncooked pasta.

Salt the sauce with the pasta in it to taste. Keeping tasting for seasoning (salt) and to be sure the pasta cooks just to al dente. Remove from heat and add slices of fresh mozzarella cheese.

Put the skillet in the oven and bake for about ten minutes, or until the mozzarella has melted.

Meanwhile, roughly chop about half of a bunch of cilantro and put it into a food processor with a bit of olive oil. Turn on the food processor and slowly stream in more olive oil until you get a pesto-like consistency. Taste and salt. Add more cilantro, olive oil or salt until it comes out the way you like it.

Of course, you can use something else like basil, which is seemingly more Italian.. Our instructor just used cilantro because there was so much in the box that week and he wanted to show that you could still use it in Italian cooking!

When the cheese is melted, pull the baked pasta out of the oven.

Use a spoon to drizzle your cilantro pesto onto your mozzarella. You’ll have a beautiful red, white and green dish – the colors of the Italian flag!

You don’t need a lot. Now, just dish up and enjoy!

You can put the rest of your pesto in a jar and store it in the fridge for a few days. Mix it with your leftover cooked pasta that you didn’t add to the sauce, perhaps. Or stir it into scrambled eggs. Really. Just try it.

Ask me a few years ago if I ever thought Rob would eat a pasta sans meat with red sauce like this and I’d say, “NO WAY!” My man is a meat-eater at heart. He turns his nose up at vegetarian pizzas. The less vegetables the better… and pile on the meat, please.

But this is a dish he ASKS for.

Thank you, Italy!

Thank you, San Marzano tomatoes!

Here’s the recipe in case you want to copy, paste and print without photos:

San Marzano Pasta

Ingredients:

  • Extra virgin olive oil (I use Italian, either expeller or cold-pressed)
  • Chopped garlic – 3 cloves or so should do, but lately I’ve been wanting more!
  • 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes
  • 8 ounces of uncooked pasta of your choice
  • 8 ounces of fresh mozzarella – the kind in the ball, not the shredded stuff!
  • Cilantro (or other fresh herb to make a pesto, such as basil)

Method:

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Boil a pot of water for your pasta of choice. Once it comes to a boil, salt the water and bring it to a boil again before adding the pasta. Cook one or two minutes shy of the al dente directions on the package.
  • Meanwhile, heat 1 to 2 Tbsp olive oil in an oven-safe skillet on medium-high heat. Put a small piece of chopped garlic in the pan. Once it starts to sizzle, the pan is ready and you can add the rest of the garlic. Cook the garlic for a few minutes, but watch so that it doesn’t burn.
  • Add your can of San Marzano tomatoes (juices and all) to the pan to stop the cooking of the garlic.
  • Break up the tomatoes with a spatula so that they are no longer whole.
  • Once it starts bubbling, lower the heat a bit and simmer while you are waiting for the pasta.
  • When the pasta is a minute or two shy of al dente, drain the water and slowly add the pasta, a little at a time, to the tomato sauce to finish cooking. If the pasta was cooked completely prior to adding it to the sauce, it will overcook and get mushy.
  • Remember, add the pasta a little at a time. I’ve added too much pasta before and had very little sauce. By adding a little at a time, you can control the ratio and never add too much.
  • Salt the sauce with the pasta in it to taste. Keeping tasting for seasoning (salt) and to be sure the pasta cooks just to al dente.
  • Remove from heat and add slices of fresh mozzarella cheese on top.
  • Put the skillet in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until the mozzarella has melted.
  • Meanwhile, roughly chop about half of a bunch of cilantro (or some basil) and put it into a food processor with a bit of olive oil. Turn on the food processor and slowly stream in more olive oil until you get a pesto-like consistency.  Taste and salt. Add more cilantro, olive oil or salt until it comes out the way you’d like it.
  • When you pull the baked pasta out of the oven, use a spoon to drizzle your cilantro pesto onto your mozzarella. You’ll have a beautiful red white and green dish – the colors of the Italian flag!
  • Dish up and enjoy – especially with a nice bottle of Chianti Classico.

What’s your favorite Italian dish?

A link to a recipe is encouraged!

Salute~
Carrie

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17 responses »

  1. Totally agree with the part about if they complain they can do the cooking. I will have to remember that. I cook for a friend sometimes, just to be nice but, since she used to cook at a restaurant (basically a bit better than a pub) she likes to critique everything I make…it gets frustrating. It also makes me not want to cook for her because no one else does that to me. I can take criticism mind you, it’s just every little nit-picking thing…ack!!! I have heard nothing but good about those tomatoes, unfortunately I can’t get them here 😦 The dish looks and sounds mighty impressive and if your hubs liked it that is a good sign for me! I love cooking classes, I haven’t had one in years but, I always find them fun and I always learn something new 🙂

  2. yummy!! but u kno wat pulled me in right away, not apologizing for ur cooking! haha…i’m the WORST cook ever so that is some nice little positive feedback for me. that said, if it’s not from a micro i can’t exactly promise u’ll want to eat it.

  3. Sounds like a great recipe! One of the things I miss most about living in Europe is hte delicious veggies! A lot of fruits and veggies like tomatoes and cucumber seem to have less taste in Canada (because of different growing methods…)
    I have a picky eater at home too so I know how hard it is to feed vegetarian foods to a meat and potatoes eater 😉

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