No-Cook Tomato Sauce

All the tomatoes. Photo credit: Julia Bainbridge

Do you have a go-to weeknight dish? Is it pasta? Are you standing over the stove right now, sweating over the sauce while the water burbles and steams away?

Well, stop. Just stop. It’s July careening into August and sticky as can be, and there’s a way to halve the amount of heat emanating from those burners. No, we haven’t figured out how to cook pasta using cold water, but we do know that you can avoid heat when it comes to tomato sauce.

Depending on where in America you are, your favorite ruby-hued friend has just arrived at the farmer’s market. Tomatoes. They’re here, and they’re glorious.

So let them shine by doing as little as possible to them: Just cut, dress, and throw them under a hot mess of al dente pasta. Italians have been “cooking” raw tomato sauce for ages, and we’re seeing it at restaurants and in magazines all over the place this summer.

Here’s the recipe you need for those days when you want it all: peppery greens, a hit of vinegar, and all the sexy tomatoes you can get your paws on. Food writer, “Top Chef Masters" judge, and cookbook editor Francis Lam swears by it, and in the recipe below he will get you as fired up as he is (without firing up a pan) about tomatoes, pasta, and summer itself.

Summer Tomato Pasta with Greens and Shaved Onion
by Francis Lam,
Serves 2-4, depending on how serious you are about tomatoes

2 ½ pounds of the ripest tomatoes you can find (a mix of varieties is really nice)
2 loose handfuls of tender young arugula or flavorful greens of your choice (about 2 cups, but whatever)
¼ cup shaved red onion or shallot, as thin as you can cut it
1 pound spaghetti or linguine
Extra-virgin olive oil, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Red wine vinegar, to taste (optional)
Parmesan cheese, to taste (optional)

Boil a gallon of water in a large pot, and make it taste salty (not unpleasantly salty, but distinctly salty). When the water comes to a full rolling boil, add the pasta and stir.

While the water is heating, cut half of the tomatoes into roughly ½-inch chunks and put in a large salad bowl. Coarsely chop the rest, and don’t forget to tip the cutting board to get all the juice in the bowl too.

Season the tomatoes generously with salt and pepper, and pour in a few glugs of olive oil. Taste them. Hey, save some for the pasta! If they’re sweet and delicious but could use a little tartness, give them a little lick of vinegar.

Lay arugula and then onion or shallots on top of the tomatoes, spreading out the onions so they’re as close to lying in one layer as possible. Now wait for your pasta to finish cooking. You can’t steal any more tastes of the tomato, because the layering is important — the heat from the pasta that you’ll dump on top will wilt the greens and just barely cook the onions, mellowing them out. Right about now is when I start really failing at the art of anticipation and scream obscenities at the pasta to finish cooking.

When the pasta is finally done, al dente, (You son of a #@&$!), drain it well in a colander and immediately dump it in the bowl, spreading it out so it covers the vegetables evenly. Bite your lip and let it sit undisturbed for two whole minutes and try to distract yourself by shaving Parmigiano on top. Mix it together well—really stir it up to stretch the melting cheese and coat the pasta in juice and oil. Give it a taste, adjust with salt, pepper, vinegar, or olive oil if you’d like more richness, and serve immediately.