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.
That looks beautiful – amazing colours. Interesting pasta too – I’ve tried something similar, but never that. It looks like pici.
Pici isn’t commonly seen here, but judging by the photos of the commercially available kind, they do look similar. Do you ever see perciatelli? (Another name for bucatini.) Pici made by hand is quite irregular and at pencil width size at its thickest, it’s a lot thicker than bucatini. All of them sound delicious.
Oh my word, that looks fabulous. Do you think it would work with frozen green tomatoes or would they be too slushy to broil when defrosted? I stashed my spares away in the freezer to make pickles with at a later date but I’d love to try this. Thanks, Linda x
Thanks, Linda. You’re right–you can’t broil previously frozen tomatoes. But I’d still use them, skipping the peeling business (sometimes life demands more texture than you like to give). The sauce is a brief treat. Ken
Thanks, I’ll definitely give this a try, it sounds delicious.
I am already in love with the dish… just because of the amazing photos!
Thank you, Supriya. It does taste good. Ken
Smashing!! How yummy, can’t wait to try this one out. Great photos, once again …
Thank you, Dina. I’m sure you guys will enjoy it. Ken
I went up and down and up and down again, the photos are amazing, so mouthwatering – well done, Ken!
Guten Appetit! :-)
Aw, shucks. Thanks. Ken
Yes! This summer I made bucatini for the first time, and I don’t know how I’ve lived so long without ever trying it. It’s my new favorite pasta, because there’s nothing to not like about it. Your pictures are gorgeous, as usual!
Thanks, Jersey Girl. After you’ve checked this off your bucket list, go find some guanciale and make carbonara with bucatini. Culinary awesomeness in a bowl. Ken
This has got to be one of the ultimate comfort foods. How utterly delicious. I like the addition of ginger giving the overall dish a bit of zing. I like the way you describe bucatini – laugh out loud funny!
Hi, Torie. Glad to have made you laugh (I did while writing it–only sorry I couldn’t have kept the line about kicking sand in the face of rival pastas). It’s a delicious way of saying goodbye to fresh tomatoes. Ken
Bucatini are really fabulous. I might have the names mixed up but yakisoba are my favorite fat Asian noodle, without the hole. Love the idea of the mixed tomatoes. It makes total sense. And those chopping skills! You captured them perfectly. The ginger surprised me. I had to check and see what she was chopping! Fabulous photos as always. They could all be framed!
Love yakosoba AND udon both. Anything with noodles and hot sauce or broth is my nemesis. Last month I went to a new, very desirable ramen shop in Cambridge with HUGE portions with the broth glistening with a slick of pork fat. Had to stagger out the door afterward. Ginger in Italian food used to surprise me. I first encountered it in the Veneto, but since then I’ve heard of being used in both Rome and Tuscany. Ken
Reading this on the road to the interior of Canada to view a salmon run. Bucatini is packed among our provisions in this tightly packed car. The first three sentences of this blog some up my views on pasta vs. my husband’s (he would eat angel hair with everything). Also packed – a chicken. I thought Oliver ‘a Chicken Stew would warm us up. Alas, no room in the car for the pressure cooker (priorities?) so we are making it old school. Can’t wait to try this.
Don’t wait too long–or you’ll be reminding yourself to try it next year. I was surprised to still see tons of red tomatoes at yesterday’s farmers market. The end is coming, I tell you, the end is coming! Ken
Talk to me about the ginger because I can’t imagine it with the other ingredients. My only guess is that it works with the green tomatoes.
Good question about the ginger. I learned years ago that Italians sometimes use ginger in unexpected ways. I love the spice and flavor it adds to the dish and it does indeed work well with the green tomatoes. Jody
I love bucatini too. It’s one of my absolute favorite pasta type, and it’s true that it goes so well with tomatoes! Beautiful recipe and I will definitely trying it very soon- once I finish my diet after the Sicilian trip! Good to have you back :-)
Facing the same problem after Sardinia. Groan. Oh well, it’s a filthy job, but someone has to do it. :-) Ken
Oh, darn it … I just fed my last green tomatoes to the chickens!
I hope you followed it up with some bucatini. Ken
There are few things they like better than pasta. :)
Another wonderful post. The early description “a bowl of bucatini slicked with WD40” got me laughing. Beautiful presentation of beautiful ingredients, beautifully prepared. (The 3Bs of blogging)
Generous praise from a blogger who clearly prioritizes a tone of high seriousness in his own writing. :-) Ken
Obligatory slurps aside, bucatini is such a great pasta. I only wish I had seen this recipe on Saturday before I used all of my green tomatoes to make relish. It sounds like a fantastic dish, Ken.
Ah, well, there’s always next year. Thanks for the kind words. Judging by the comments I’m not the only fan of bucatini, yet I’m always surprised when people I know who cook say they’ve never heard of it. Probably because you don’t see it on most grocery shelves. Ken
Eating at the gate of fall… What a thoroughly delicious and awesome image. And I didn’t know much about bucatini, being a spag or linguini girl. Thank you for the masterclass, and the image.
You’re in for a treat. Green tomato sauce, at least in this part of the world, is a fleeting delight. One or two weekends you catch sight of it, then it’s off into the trees until next fall. I think you’ll enjoy bucatini–it’s the ultimate match for carbonara. Ken
What a beautiful simple recipe. I didn’t realize you were back! I need to see pics! I love the colors in these photos and the description of spaghetti with a gym membership. Hilarious. I’m also loving the pinch of saffron! Welcome home!
Never heard such name, but the recipe seems simple, but tempting! Amazing photos! Thanks a lot for a virtual master class! :)
Just checked the name bucatini on the net. :) I ate it, but didn’t recognize from pics! :D
See, life is good – and sometimes we don’t even know it. :-) Thanks for the kind words. Ken
Looks fantastic. Will try this recipe very soon. Thanks for sharing :D
You’re welcome. Enjoy. I hope there are still some green tomatoes about for you to use. Ken
Made this! Had to pull the last haul of garden tomatoes before a cold snap and so I doubled this, switched the ginger and saffron for basil and oregano, then cooked it down for close to two-hour on low heat to thicken/reduce after blending it all up with an immersion blender and got 4.75 servings of sauce to throw in the freezer.