The husband made this dish the other night in a fit of reminiscing, and when I mentioned on Twitter that it was the most addictive pasta dish ever I got no less than four requests for the recipe. So, I figured I should put it online.
I think it’s safe to say that this dish not only inspired the husband to love cooking, but also started the love affair I now have with Italian food. I am not a cook – I don’t like experimenting in the kitchen and I’m easily flustered by too many things on the stove at once – but this dish just looked so simple to make that we tried it the same day we saw it as part of a promotional show on our local PBS station. As I learned later, the simplicity of this recipe is completely indicative of how easy Italian cooking is. What’s more, we’ve made it even simpler than the original recipe, too, so there’s really no excuse to not make it at least once a week.
Which is why it’s insane that we always forget about it.
At any rate, I’ve never been to The River Cafe in London, but this recipe comes from the two women who started that restaurant (which is, incidentally, where Jamie Oliver got his start). Without further ado, I bring you:
Rigatoni con Balsamico
rigatoni with balsamic vinegar and tomato sauce
- 9 oz dried rigatoni pasta (penne works fine, too)
- 1 28 oz can peeled plum tomatoes*
- 4 tbs balsamic vinegar**
- 1 generous cup of finely grated pecorino cheese
- 6 tbs butter, cut into small pieces
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
- handful of fresh basil
- salt & pepper
* If you can find them, we prefer San Marzano tomatoes – they’re sometimes labeled “Italian peeled tomatoes” – and they’re peeled in their own thin puree, but whole.
** The quality of the balsamic vinegar is extremely important to this recipe; if you have balsamic that’s aged 10 years or more that’s best. If you don’t, you may need to use a bit more of the vinegar to impart enough flavor to the pasta.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan, and add the garlic slices. Saute them until they’re light brown, then add a few of the basil leaves.
- Add the entire can of tomatoes to the pan and stir over low-med heat for 30-40 minutes. As you stir, break up the whole tomatoes into smaller pieces. Reduce this mixture to a thick sauce.
- Add salt and pepper to the sauce to taste, along with the rest of the basil leaves.
- Cook the pasta in generously salted water. Before you drain the pasta, keep a coffee mug full of the pasta water in reserve.
- Return the drained pasta to its pan and stir in the butter until it’s melted.
- After the butter has melted and thoroughly coated the pasta, add the balsamic vinegar. Stir this into the pasta over low heat (residual heat from the burner is generally sufficient) until the pasta is coated with the vinegar.
- Stir in a handful of the grated pecorino, and then add the tomato sauce to the pasta.
- Stir a few times, just to distribute the colors and flavors, but don’t worry about the pasta looking uniformly-covered. There will be irregular chunks of tomato throughout the pan.§
- Serve immediately with the extra pecorino to garnish the top.
§ If the sauce is too thick to adequately coat the pasta lightly, you can add a bit of the pasta water you saved before you drained the pasta. We’ve never needed the pasta water when we’ve made this dish, and you’d have to cook the sauce for quite awhile before it got so thick that you’d need the pasta water, but it never hurts to have it on hand just in case.
photo of London’s River Cafe from the restaurant’s website