Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Burying the lede

People, seriously. Seriously, people.

I hate how long I've been absent from this space. I hate that I couldn't manage to pop in at any time over the past three months, not even to tell you about the world's most simple and frugal cooking ingredient, tomato water. I hate making excuses. So I won't.

Save this one: I am a lazy ass.

I have spent the majority of the past three months napping, at least those hours when I wasn't at work. Frankly, I might have napped at work, but my office door has six windows set into it, and, dude, you can see through it. I can't even nap under my desk a la Constanza, as my desk is simply a table. 

Anyway, I'm burying the lede. I'm so freaking nappy because I'm once again expecting a little one, scheduled to join us in August, two years after his/her big brother was born. So basically, if you're not TiVoed episodes of "America's Test Kitchen," or the absolutely dreadful Sex and the City 2 movie being replayed ad nauseam on HBO in the middle of the night, or a "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" marathon, or the sofa, or my son, or my high-maintenance dog, then I have not been paying attention to you. (Note: Husband did not make that list. Neither did the dishes, or the laundry.) (Don't I have really great taste in television?)

All this doesn't mean I haven't been thinking of cooking, though. Because I have been. I've been thinking a lot about tomato water, ever since the maestro Ruhlman mentioned it on his site back in October 2010. As a lover of everything pasta and everything tomato -- and a staunch advocate of frugality in the kitchen -- tomato water speaks to me. Each time I'm using fresh tomatoes as the basis for a roasted tomato sauce, I now set them in a colander over a large bowl, salt them, and capture their water. The resulting more concentrated tomatoes make for an even richer, deeper roasted sauce, and the tomato water gets frozen, awaiting the next time I make the following dish.

You might think tomato-water spaghetti would be thin, watery, and flavorless. You would be wrong. It is delicate, fresh, tomato-y, and subtly salty. The tomato water, once it simmers a bit and mixes with the butter and the residual starch washing off the cooked pasta, turns velvety soft and smooth. It clings to the pasta beautifully, cloaking it with a pinkish, savory veil. It's a little beguiling, really, and its ability to charm and bewitch completely belies its frugal, otherwise-waste roots.

So apparently you can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. And you can get a pregnant lady off the couch long enough to share a recipe.


Adapted from Michael Ruhlman

Note: If you don't have tomato water waiting for you in your freezer, start stocking up the next time you use fresh tomatoes in a sauce or stew. Simply peel the tomatoes, cut them into chunks and place them in a colander set over a large bowl. Toss the tomatoes with a few pinches of kosher salt and let them drain. Freeze the water for use later, then proceed with however you were going to use the tomatoes themselves. I find that 6-8 large tomatoes will yield the 1 1/2 c. of tomato water called for in this recipe.

Another note: You'll want to serve this dish with plenty of crusty bread, for sopping. Sopping is key.

1 lb. spaghetti
2 T. olive oil
10 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 c. tomato water
1 c. fresh basil, roughly chopped, divided
3 oz. unsalted butter, cut into 3 chunks
Kosher salt, to taste
Pecorino, grated, to taste
1 c. fresh tomatoes, diced (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the spaghetti according to package directions until it is al dente.

While the spaghetti cooks, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the garlic just turns brown at the edges. Do not burn the garlic! Horribleness will ensure.

Add the tomato water to the garlic, swirling to combine. Cook the tomato water until it reduces and thickens slightly. Add 3/4 c. of the basil. Add the butter, one piece at a time, whisking it into the sauce until it melts.

Drain the pasta, and add it to the tomato-water sauce in the skillet. Using a pair of tongs, stir the spaghetti until it is evenly coated with the sauce. Taste, and season with a little salt, if you like. Add the remaining 1/4 c. basil.

Serve in big bowls topped with Pecorino and, if so desired, a few spoonfuls of fresh chopped tomatoes.

Serves 2-4, depending on hunger level. Frankly, I think it serves 2.


Previously, on A Stove With A House Around It:

One year ago: coffee liqueur barbecue sauce + homemade coffee liqueur
Two years ago: layered chocolate fudge cake
Three years ago: cinnamon ice cream + chocolate Valentino
Four years ago: chicken divan