for Orrecchiette with Ricotta Forte
This is my recipe for a simple, basic summer tomato sauce, the one I make when the good ripe tasty summer tomatoes are once again available.
In Italy, or at least in Bologna if you just ask for tomatoes when shopping you get the question: "For sauce or for salad?", because different varieties are suited to one or the other purpose. If you answer "for salad" the follow up question is "All green or a little red?". We prefer harder greener tomatoes for salads, yes. They have a very slightly acidic tang which is necessary. Most of the time we use very good olive oil, so we dress with just olive oil and salt - vinegar or lemon only distract, disguise and generally interfere with the wonderful aroma and flavour of a good extra-virgin. Partly green tomatoes also have the firmness to stand up to the olive oil dressing and do not give off so much water when salted.
Sometimes I need to ask my greengrocer which variety is best for sauce but not when my favourite sauce tomato is in season. The flattish multi-pleated "Riccio", in the photo above has oodles of flavour, excellent colour, soft flesh and lots of juice. I also use like it best for rubbing on bread or toasted bread because the soft flesh can be easily rubbed in leaving the skin behind. And Ricci tomatoes are good for making Pomodori Gratinati - cut in half, topped with breadcrumbs, parsley and grated cheese, a little minced garlic sometimes, a drizzle of oil and baked till crisp and coloured gold on top.
But back to my basic simple sauce and the recipe.
1.2 kilos of ripe red tomatoes suitable for sauce
1 or 2 teaspoons of coarse sea salt
About 5 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
A few sprigs of basil
Optional: a shallot and / or two garlic cloves.
Making the sauce
It really is very simple but you do need one of these:
Called Passa Verdura in Italian or Mouli Legumes, this is the classic old fashioned stainless steel food mill. If you have one of these then all you do is wash the tomatoes and cut up roughly. For the Ricci I just cut in half horizontally. Then I put a quarter of an inch of water in a pot, pile in the tomatoes, sprinkle with coarse sea salt, add 2 or tablespoons of olive oil and set it on to simmer gently. No need to peel or cut off green parts or funny bits, the food mill will care take of those.
I cook until it has all turned into a mush and then, using the finest disc - there are usually three of them to choose between - I put everything through the food mill. The food mill is placed over a bowl and I do just a a few ladles at a time.
Round and round steadily, occasionally turning back the other way to detach residues until nothing is left but skin, seeds and stalks.
I make sure to scrape all the good thick stuff that sticks to the bottom too.
Now the "passata" goes back into a pot and back on the heat to simmer further, with another 2 tablespoons or so of olive oil. I cook it for at least 30 minutes more, simmering it on low heat but an hour is better. You do need to stir and to add a little water if it gets too thick. It should smell like heaven in summer and look beautifully thick and shiny.
I push in the fresh basil sprigs only when it ready and I have turned off the heat underneath. This way the basil aroma permeates the sauce and lasts - if basil is cooked, its flavour and scent simply evaporate and any basil taste is lost.
This time I used the sauce to recreate a dish I had on my recent holiday in Puglia, Orrecchiette al Pomodoro con Ricotta Forte. Ricotta Forte - which I have not so far seen in Bologna though I suspect I will find it if I search a little - is a Puglia speciality. It is a fermented Ricotta with a sharp pungent flavour and it is used on pasta the way other regions use grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano and also as a spread on bread.
I made my own Orrecchiette with some difficulty. I learnt a lot about the consistency the dough should have and understood what I should do a little differently next time. When I've improved my Orrecchiette technique I will write here about it. There are every good artisan Orrecchiette in the shops and those are more than good enough. So having cooked the pasta I drained it and put it in a small sauteé pan with some of the tomato sauce.
Then I added just a tiny of amount of Ricotta Forte - it really is strong tasting as the Italian names suggests and it is best to be wary.
Mixed that it with the pasta and tomato sauce, tasted and decided to add just a little more.
A final tossing and the pasta was ready to serve. Quite delicious!