Our Second Meal: Pasta & Basil Buttered Tomatoes

I wrote this post in 2020, fresh to Canada. I knew I’d forget what the early days felt like so I kept a journal – about thoughts, feelings and importantly, eats!

January 2020

Our first shopping trip is dominated by pasta and tomatoes, bread and butter and pasta. Three kinds – linguine, farfalle, fusilli. And Dr Oetker’s pizza, which the children remember from their Dutch days.

We don’t find cherry tomatoes, so grape tomatoes will do for they’re small enough still. We grab a pot of basil because I can’t find the fresh packs – I don’t know that they are hiding round the corner in small plastic packets where I expect bags. We get two wedges of parmesan, salt, black pepper, chili flakes, olive oil, white onions, and salted butter. PS, I struggle with the decision to get salted butter because someone told me once that the salt disguised the true flavour of cheaper butter but I like sticks of butter and so I cave in when I don’t find sticks of unsalted.  

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On sticks of butter:

Normal.

Is not a word I’d use to describe me. Myself. Is that bad English?

I am intrigued by butter. Sticks of butter. The allure of reading American recipes that call for a ‘stick of butter’ hasn’t worn off……and I can count January the 8th as one of my best days in the history of food! Because in a shop round the corner from me, a shop that has given me graham crackers and cheese, gianduja chocolate and Marrons de glace….I found sticks of butter

Do you hear me? Sticks of butter.

Now if you had sticks of butter on your wish list…just seeing them, hugging and holding them close was a dream come true for me. Do you understand my desire, lust, infatuation? Infatuation….that has seen me buy 10 boxes of 4 quarters. Or 40 sticks.

That is something significant for 40 is a special number, isn’t it?

According to the father of all knowledge encyclopedic, Wikipedia, Forty is an octagonal number, and as the sum of the first four pentagonal numbers, it is a pentagonal pyramidal number. Adding up some subsets of its divisors (e.g., 1, 4, 5, 10 and 20) gives 40, hence 40 is a semiperfect number.

The point is my 40 sticks of butter bode well. Even if only 16 are left.

 To understand a people, you must live among them for 40 days ~Arabic proverb

If I had to describe the butter, pure heaven is what I would say. Rich, creamy, smooth and incredibly tasty….even though it is unsalted! So now, I’ve added American butter to my list of ‘best’  butters that include some of France’s finest and Italy’s too.

Divine butter

And what better way to end the life of a stick of butter than in a cake, (lauded for its easy and spectacular results), than Amanda Hesser’s Chocolate Dump it all cake.

A slab, rich with Minty Marshmallow Frosting

To put things in perspective, since December the 15th 2011, I have made this cake 7 9 times!

Back in our condo, everyone’s starving and so we get to work.

J’s on the tomatoes – washing and halving.

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R is on the pasta

I’m on onion duty – slicing, dicing and pan prepping. The recipe is simple:

Heat some oil in a pan and sauté diced (white) onions with a pinch of salt, and some chopped fresh basil. Let them cook for a few minutes on medium heat, till the onions soften a bit.

Tomato and Basil Pasta sauce

Then add the halved tomatoes, and season with a touch more salt and black pepper, to taste. Sauté for 4 – 5 minutes.DSC_0445

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Add a knob of cold butter and stir through.

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In the meantime, the pasta is cooking. It’ll take 7 – 8 minutes.

Back to the sauce. Add some more fresh basil, pepper, whatever else you need to get the flavours you want. We’ve decided to try to live a life without sugar but the tomatoes are a touch acidic – unexpected. Honey to the rescue. Just a little enough to temper the abrasive flavour. I think sugar would have been better but it’s okay.

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One bay leaf, a sprinkle of dried oregano, minced fresh garlic and another stir. I put the lid on and cook on low.

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The pasta is ready. We strain and reserve the cooking water. Some of it will go into our sauce because in this house, we have people who like the tomatoes, and people who drink the sauce. You’ll meet them soon. 

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The sauce is reduced a touch, flavours concentrated, and it’s time for our pasta water.

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A few more minutes, fresh basil

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and more butter and we’re ready to eat pasta with sauce, bacon, spring salad and grated cheese.

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What a way to bring home, to feel like home thousands of miles away.

And so it is, a year later, we continue to make this sauce. We’ve discovered other ‘favourite’ pasta sauces but every few months, this comes up again and we abandon sugo, or any vodka sauce and spend days courting the flavours of this.

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