Every pasta shape is lovable, if only it finds the right sauce. But deep down inside, we know whom we love best. For me it’s bucatini. Bucatini is what spaghetti would be if it had a gym membership, and the will to pump iron until it got the girl. I’d slurp up a bowl of bucatini slicked with WD40 just to experiences its chewy satisfactions. While bucatini is no match for sauces that require crampons and carabiners to hold them in place, ending up with leftover sauce in the bottom of the bowl hardly seems like the end of the world. (Pass the bread, please.) No fear of that this week. New England tomatoes are gasping their last, with only a few red diehards and lots of green wannnabees still about. Together they make a great sauce that tastes of the season. Bucatini with Red and Green Tomatoes is the pasta to eat at the gate of fall. Blink, and even the green tomatoes will be gone.
Bucatini is a strand pasta: round, much thicker than spaghetti, with a hole (a “buco”) running down the center. It is both chewy and a bit springy, if not overcooked, which means that while it twirls, it also has a tendency to de-twirl if you wind it too tight or overload your fork. Don’t eat it while wearing a white linen shirt unless you first tie the corners of the tablecloth behind your neck.
This recipe includes three kinds of tomatoes: red, green and canned whole plum tomatoes, and each serves a purpose. The red add fresh tomato flavor; the green, acidity and color; and the canned plum tomatoes, a meaty undertone that brings everything together and prevents the sauce from tasting too sharp. Charring contributes an extra layer of taste. Large unripe red tomatoes that are still green have a higher flesh-to-skin ratio than smaller true green varieties like Green Zebras, making the former faster to peel. Exploring which canned tomatoes to buy is a topic worth it’s own post, which I’m not inclined to do since Adam Kuban of SeriousEats.com has already written an excellent piece on that very subject. We don’t shy away from canned American tomatoes; my just-pull-something-off-the-shelf choice is Muir Glen organic whole tomatoes. But after all that pumping iron, the tomato we want to take to the dance is D.O.P. San Marzano–certified Italian San Marzano tomatoes. As I said, we know whom we love best. Enjoy. Ken
Bucatini with Red and Green Tomatoes
- 1½ pounds green (unripe) tomatoes, cut in half
- <2½ pounds ripe red tomatoes, cut in half
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup onion, chopped into ¼-inch dice
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped garlic (we used 3 VERY large cloves)
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- ¾ teaspoon fennel seeds
- ½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
- 1 generous pinch saffron
- 1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, drained and chopped (about 1 cup)
- 16 ounces bucatini
- 1 cup basil leaves, torn
- Parmesan cheese for grating
- Preheat the broiler. Arrange the tomatoes on a sheet pan, cut side down. Put the green ones at one end and the red ones at the other. Slide the pan under the broiler, on the top shelf, with the green tomatoes to the back as that is the hottest part of the broiler and the green tomatoes will take longer to char than the red. Broil until the tomatoes are charred and the skins begin to peel back, about 7 minutes for the red and 12 for the green.
- When cool enough to handle, remove the skins and cut out the cores of the red tomatoes. Put the skins in a bowl. Holding the peeled tomatoes over the bowl with the skins, scoop out the seeds of the red into the bowl, along with any juices. Reserve. Peel the green tomatoes and discard the skins. Remove the seeds, and discard the seeds along with any juices; they’re too acidic for the sauce.
- Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, ginger, fennel seeds, hot pepper flakes, saffron, and cook another 3 minutes. Add the green tomatoes, the chopped canned tomatoes, and 1 cup water. Cook 12 minutes. Pour the red tomato skin, seeds, and accumulated juices through a strainer, into the pan. Use the back of wooden spoon to mash everything into the mesh to get all of the juices. Add the charred red tomatoes directly to the pan and cook 10 minutes more. Remove from the heat. The sauce should be fairly thick. If not, continue cooking.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the bucatini and cook to al dente, 7-10 minutes.
- Scoop the cooked pasta out of the boiling water and transfer the pasta to the pan with the sauce, add the remaining oil and basil and toss well. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
As a New Englander, living in a place with a very short growing season, I was raised to endure the wait until August, then reveling in ripe red tomatoes for as long as the season lasted. Green tomatoes were a poor consolation for the end of the season, fit for pickling and frying only. It took a trip to Rome to change my mind, when a dish of Spaghetti and Lobster taught me that half ripe tomatoes have a role to play in what might otherwise be a red sauce. I loved the balance of sweet red tomatoes with acidic green ones in that dish and I stole the idea for Rialto’s Lobster Bucatini. Italians, I also discovered, unembarrassedly serve raw tomatoes in various stages of ripeness (or under-ripeness) in salads. Who knew? I’m now pretty open-minded about using tomatoes in different stages of ripeness. The only ones I won’t use are pink–3 or four to a pack, encased in cellophane, in a produce aisle, having arrived from who knows where.