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Every month or so, Le Sirenuse's head chef, Matteo Temperini, will share a recipe with our readers. For the first instalment, Matteo has chosen a simple, iconic southern Italian pasta dish. But often the simplest dishes are the most challenging, as it’s fine details that mean the difference between success and failure: details like cooking time, presentation and, in this case, the choice of tomato.
Matteo recommends using ‘piennolo’ vine tomatoes, an oval variety with pointed ends grown on the slopes of Vesuvius, mostly within the Parco Nazionale del Vesuvio. Visit the area in the late summer and autumn and you’ll see bunches of these vibrant red tomatoes hanging from the ceiling inside well-aired barns and attics: preserved in this way, they lose some of their moisture but take on an even more intense flavour, and last right through the winter. Finding fresh piennolo tomatoes outside of Naples and Campania can be a challenge, but the bottled ones made by organic producer Casa Barone, which exports to the USA, UK and other countries, are a good substitute for the fresh or partially dried versions.
Alternatively, try using ‘datterino’ or ‘San Marzano’ tomatoes, or at a push, ripe cherry tomatoes. The key thing is that they should have some sweetness and flavour. Big, watery salad tomatoes are no use at all. Not even for salads.
For preference, the spaghetti should be Campanian, from one of the better Gragnano producers. Matteo uses the one made by Gerardo di Nola.
Spaghetti with ‘piennolo’ tomatoes and basil
250g/9oz ‘piennolo’ tomatoes, cut into quarters lengthwise, not peeled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
I unpeeled clove garlic
Handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
Salt to taste
Put a saucepan of water on (allow at least a litre per 100g of pasta), add salt to taste, and bring it to the boil.
Heat half of the olive oil in a frying pan on a medium heat. Crush the unpeeled garlic clove and toss it in the pan with the roughly torn basil leaves until it takes colour.
Add the tomatoes plus a little salt to taste, and toss them around with the other ingredients for five or six minutes. While you’re doing this, add the spaghetti to the boiling water.
Taste the spaghetti; when it’s still al dente (cooked, but still with a bite to it), drain it in a colander, add it to the frying pan with the tomatoes and basil, and toss it around for a couple of minutes so that all the sauce adheres to it.
Finally, add the other tablespoon of olive oil, toss one last time, and serve topped with fresh basil and a sprinkle of black pepper. The idea in the presentation, says Matteo is to achieve a kind of “orderly disorder”.