You will be amazed at how pureeing fresh tomatoes with canned tomato sauce can enliven the overall flavor of a red sauce. Add a touch of fresh or dried chili pepper, some homemade bread crumbs and ground almonds as thickeners, and you’ve made a simple Romesco sauce. Serve this pasta as a main course with steamed artichokes vinaigrette to start and for dessert, present melon balls chilled in port, with a plate of biscotti for dipping into after-dinner espresso.
2 pounds tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup cubed peasant or Italian bread (including crust)
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 small fresh red chili pepper, minced, or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
10 ounces radiatore or fusilli pasta
12 unblanched whole almonds
1 can (8 ounces) no-salt-added tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 In a large pot of boiling water, blanch the tomatoes for 20 seconds. With a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes and let cool slightly. (Keep the water hot for cooking the pasta.) When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel, and halve. Set aside.
2 In a small nonstick skillet, warm 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons of the oil over medium-low heat. Add the bread cubes and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and process to form fine crumbs.
3 To the skillet, add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil, the garlic, and chili pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the garlic is golden and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Transfer to the processor.
4 Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions.
5 Meanwhile, add the almonds to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until toasted, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the processor. Add the blanched tomato halves, tomato sauce, and salt to the processor, and process until not quite smooth, but some texture remains.
6 Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce.
Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 386 calories, 9.5g total fat (1.3g saturated), 0mg cholesterol, 5.9g dietary fiber, 66g carbohydrate, 12g protein, 353mg sodium.