It’s summer and the tomatoes are great right now! I love them just eaten out of hand, with a sprinkling of salt. Or sliced, sprinkled with fresh basil and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and a good green fruity olive oil. Or sprinkled with herbs and olive oil and run under the broiler for a moment or two.
And I love them in a fresh tomato sauce, which I had every intention of making for the "Presto Pasta Night Roundup." That’s the one with diced red ripe tomatoes, slivered fresh basil or oregano, diced red onion, a bit of minced garlic, capers, olive oil and a drizzle of either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. Let it set at room temperature, loosely covered, for the better part of the day, and at dinner time, cook pasta (angel hair is the traditional one to use), toss it, still hot, with the room temperature sauce and some shredded Fontina cheese and enjoy.
I was going to make that, until I came across this in an old edition of Gourmet Magazine, speaking of the multi-starred French chef, Michel Troigros: "…(he) does cold spaghetti with poutargue (pressed tuna roe) in a sweet tomato vinaigrette…" It reminded me of a dish I had in a Sicilian restaurant in Rome several years back, and now is the perfect time to make it.
The cuisine of Sicily uses more "exotic" spices than most Italian food because of the various Mediterranean cultures that have passed through this island at the tip of the mainland "boot." And citrus fruit practically grows wild there. Anyway, I loved the dish and came home and played with it until I got close. Poutargue (or botarga, as it is known in Italy) is not readily available here—and besides it’s expensive and definitely an acquired taste--but seared shrimp make a perfect substitute.
Here’s the menu: A big salad of crisp mixed greens with chunks of peeled seeded cucumber, slivered red onion, black olives, shavings of pecarino romano cheese and a red wine vinaigrette dressing, Sicilian marinated tomato pasta, a loaf of crusty bread and for dessert, store-bought pastry shells topped with jarred lemon curd and berries. Almost everything can be done well in advance, giving you time to enjoy a nice glass of mint iced tea with your friends. How easy could it be?
SICILIAN MARINATED TOMATO PASTA
For the sauce:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 piece fresh ginger, peeled, about 1" square, minced
1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1 whole clove, lightly crushed
1 pint baby plum tomatoes or grape tomatoes, halved, or 1-1/4 lb tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks
12 oz spaghetti, preferably imported
1/2 cup good extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 large clove garlic, very finely minced
12 large leaves basil
The juice of the lemon
The juice of 1/2 the orange
Early in the morning, or even the night before, make the sauce: Dissolve the sugar in the water. Add the ginger, spices and the zest of the orange and lemon, taken off in strips with a vegetable peeler. Add the juice of half the orange. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat and reserve. Put the tomatoes in a glass or ceramic bowl and pour the syrup over the top. Let marinate, covered, up to 8 hours at room temperature, or chill up to overnight. Remove from the fridge to come to room temperature before serving.
When ready to serve, cook the spaghetti in plenty of well-salted boiling water until just barely al dente. Drain, mix with two tablespoons of the olive oil and reserve. Meanwhile, heat half the olive oil in a skillet with the garlic. Cook the shrimp until just barely pink, 2-3 minutes. Lift the tomatoes from the syrup and place in a large warmed serving bowl. Add the rest of the olive oil, a spoonful or two of the syrup (leaving the spices behind) and the lemon and orange juices. Salt and pepper generously. Add the spaghetti and shrimp and toss to combine. Sprinkle with the basil leaves, torn into bits and serve at once, or let cool to room temperature. Serves four as a main course.