Local and Seasonal: Capellini with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

On the last Wednesday in August, tens of thousands of people gather in Buñol, Spain for the world's greatest tomato fight. La Tomatina has taken place in the small town, located twenty miles west of Valencia, for more than sixty-five years. Festivities commence in the main square, Plaza del Pueblo, where a ham is placed atop a greased two-story pole. After a participant successfully reaches the ham, trucks begin unloading piles of low-grade, overripe tomatoes. You can guess what happens next.

Tomatoes are reaching their sweetest and most intensely flavorful moment during these final, steamy days of summer. Though a giant food fight does admittedly sound fun, if given the choice, I'd much rather eat the round, red fruits than throw them. Vine-ripened tomatoes are far superior to the cottony, bland, rock-hard ones found year-round in most supermarkets, but they do tend to cost a bit more. Look for seasonal deals at farmers' market stands, many of which offer reduced prices on boxes of super ripe tomatoes that must be bought before they spoil. Try asking for "seconds," the perfectly tasty fruits with cracks, blemishes, or other slight cosmetic defects.

Whatever you do, under no circumstances should you store your tomatoes in the refrigerator. Temperatures below 60ºF destroy the tomato's tantalizing aromas and lead to a mealy texture. Instead, keep them on a kitchen countertop away from direct sunlight.

An extraordinary tomato can be eaten with just a sprinkling of salt, baked with thyme leaves atop puff pastry, or cut into thick slices for a wonderfully juicy BLT sandwich. Cherry tomatoes, sizzled with garlic in olive oil, make a quick sauce for pasta that tastes like summer in Spain without the mess.

Capellini with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil
The secret to this quick tomato sauce is a little bit of butter. It smoothes out the acidity of fresh tomatoes and adds a certain lusciousness.

Serves 2

½ pound capellini pasta (or your favorite noodle shape)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 pint cherry tomatoes
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
12 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
Kosher salt

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook until al dente.

While the pasta water boils, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, and cook for 3 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove garlic from skillet. (Sometimes I eat it with bread or save it for another meal.) Add tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes burst and release their juices, about 6 minutes.

Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of pasta water. Transfer noodles directly into the skillet with the tomatoes. Increase the heat to high, then add butter, basil, and reserved pasta water. Using tongs, lift and toss the pasta for about 1 minute, or until the noodles become evenly coated with sauce. Serve immediately.

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