- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Summer is here, and the expanding days are infused with the quality that slows us down in very good ways. This is the kind of settling that has us wanting to cook less, or at least with less fuss.

Lucky for us, the fresh produce pouring into farmers markets and grocery stores is so good that it can be prepared with very few accompanying ingredients. Cooking simplifies itself as the at-its-peak fruit-and-vegetable array comes marching in.

Tomatoes enjoy one of the longest growing seasons of all, and thus we can enjoy them in their unfolding prime over a period of months. I have noticed that the early-ripening tomatoes tend to be sassier and more tart than those from sun-drenched late summer that have spent more time on the vine.

Even earlier in the season, there’s something special about tomatoes grown locally. They are perfect for making a simple pasta sauce to usher in the summer. In the case of this delightful, quick, uncooked sauce, it is also stunningly simple.

Hot? Cold? Room temperature? Portable picnic fare? Usually, pasta is served piping hot or downright cold, as in the many versions of that much-loved war horse, pasta salad. But let’s venture into the in-between.

The following dish is equally delicious served at just about any temperature. You can prepare the sauce several hours, or even several days, ahead of time. Then add hot pasta to the room-temperature sauce. Or you can make the entire thing in advance and let it stand at room temperature for up to an hour before serving.

You also can refrigerate it and pack it as a cold picnic dish. All ways are good, and each temperature showcases the flavors differently. So you end up with several new dishes, depending on the temperature. This is a good thing because we need tomato recipes to take us all the way through what we hope will be a long season.

I like to serve this dish with crusty bread to mop up any of the delicious tomato juices that pool on the plate. Also consider a green salad.

A few notes on the recipe: The suggested amount of pasta is flexible because different people prefer different proportions of pasta to sauce.

If you are making the sauce in advance, reserve the basil and parsley until shortly before serving so they retain their bright green color. Refrigerated sauce should come to room temperature before being combined with hot pasta.

A really nice way to prepare Parmigiano-Reggiano is to shave off large, wide slices with a vegetable peeler.

Linguine with quick Tuscan tomato sauce

4 to 5 medium-size ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded, or 1½ pounds cherry tomatoes

3 tablespoons olive oil or more, divided

1 cup minced red onion

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup minced basil

Handful of minced Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

Freshly ground black pepper

3/4 to 1 pound linguine

1 cup crumbled ricotta salata or a mild feta (not too salty)

Parmigiano-Reggiano for the top

To peel and seed tomatoes, bring a saucepan of water to boiling, then lower the heat to a simmer. Core tomatoes and gently slip them, one by one, into the simmering water for a slow count of 10. Remove from saucepan, and then remove and discard the skin. It should come off easily.

Cut peeled tomatoes in half around the middle, then hold each one over the sink and squeeze out the seeds. Chop peeled, seeded tomatoes into ½-inch pieces. If using cherry tomatoes, simply cut them in half. Transfer to a large bowl.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium-small skillet and swirl to coat the pan. Add minced onion; saute over medium heat, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add this to the chopped tomato, scraping in every last drop of oil from the skillet. Stir in 2 more tablespoons olive oil, plus salt, basil and parsley. Grind in a generous amount of black pepper. Stir, cover and set aside.

Cook pasta in plenty of boiling water until al dente. Drain and transfer directly to tomatoes. Drizzle with a little extra olive oil, if desired, and mix from bottom of bowl, tossing in the ricotta salata or feta as you go. Serve immediately with shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.


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