Pantry Dinner: Spaghetti with Tomato Paste and Garlic
An easy dinner made with ingredients from the pantry.
- Servings: Makes 4 side servings or 2 to 3 generous main portions.
This pasta dish was rumored to have been created by chefs who’d finish their shifts late at night but still wanted a welcoming home-cooked meal that didn’t require them spending more time in front of a restaurant stove. For the rest of us it's an easy dish made with four pantry ingredients you can always have on hand – spaghetti, tomato paste, olive oil, and garlic. It also makes a quick side dish to go with fish or roast chicken.
Tomato paste is usually a minor note in a recipe but here it’s the main flavor, producing an intense, pesto-like taste as it coats the long pasta strands. I love this dish so much that I make it even when I have both time to cook and a full refrigerator.
You can make this dish in the time it takes to bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the spaghetti.
- 12 oz. (3/4 pound) spaghetti or linguine or other long pasta because this is a sauce for a long strand so that the "sauce" can slick it.
- 1 6 oz. can of tomato paste (or the equivalent squeezed from a tube -- about 3/4 of a cup)
- 2 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 to 3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced very thin
- pinch of red pepper flakes (optional and to taste)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of salt. Do not add oil.
- Add spaghetti and cook al dente.
- While the spaghetti is cooking, using a large fry pan or sauté pan, add olive oil and bring to moderate heat.
- Peel and slice the garlic. Add to the oil and cook until tender with just a little color. Don't brown it.
- Lower the heat and add the tomato paste to the oil/garlic mixture and using a wooden spoon, spread the paste into the oil so that it can cook a bit. You want to remove the raw taste from the tomato paste and create a mix of tomato/oil/garlic.
- When the spaghetti is done, quickly drain it, shaking off any excess water, and add to the pan containing the tomato/oil/garlic mixture and toss with tongs so that the spaghetti gets completely coated.
- Serve immediately.
Tip: Never, ever add oil to the water when you're cooking pasta because it will keep any sauce from sticking to the pasta. I don't care what Ina Garten says; she's wrong. If you use a generous amount of water, the pasta will cook perfectly. The exception is lasagna because the oil keeps the large pieces of pasta from sticking together in the boiling water, and because you're layering the dish and not coating the pasta with a sauce, there's no worry about the sauce not adhering.