Sauce-Simmered Spaghetti al Pomodoro

In her cookbook Listen to Your Vegetables (Harvest, $45), Chicago chef Sarah Grueneberg shares this cozy recipe, which she discovered in Lombardy, Italy—par-boiled spaghetti finishes cooking in a flavor-packed, oven-roasted tomato sauce. The process truly marries the noodles with the sauce, for a luscious dish very different from simply ladling marinara over naked noodles. Topping the spaghetti with the Middle Eastern spice blend za'atar adds another layer of interest (you can make it or buy it), but the pasta is plenty good on its own.

Sauce-Simmered Spaghetti al Pomodoro
Photo: Stephen Hamilton
Hands On Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
1 hr 45 mins


Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons everyday olive oil

  • 3 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably wild Calabrian)

  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds

  • 2 handfuls of torn fresh basil leaves

Simmered Spaghetti al Pomodoro

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 pound dry spaghetti

  • 1 tablespoon everyday olive oil

  • 1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced

  • 1 recipe Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce (above)

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves

  • Super-special extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

  • Sesame Za'atar, for finishing (optional; can be purchased or homemade)


For Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil into the bottom of a 3-qt. rectangular baking dish; rub it all over the bottom and sides of the dish. Pour in the canned tomatoes. Using your hands, crush them; remove any skin that may be stuck to them. Using a fine zester, grate the garlic cloves over the top of the tomatoes. Stir in the bay leaves, salt, oregano, fennel seeds, and basil. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and let it sit on top of the mixture; do not mix it in. Bake for 1 hour.

  2. Turn the broiler to high and place the tomatoes about 2 inches from the heat source. Allow them to char slightly on top, for about 5 minutes. Let cool, then discard the bay leaves. Transfer the sauce to an airtight container and keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 2 months in the freezer.

For Sauce-Simmered Spaghetti al Pomodoro

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season it delicately with kosher salt, as you will use a good amount of the pasta water in the sauce. Add the spaghetti and cook the pasta only halfway in the water; so if the package says 10 minutes for al dente, then cook the spaghetti for 5 minutes. Do not drain.

  2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and toast for 1 minute, or until golden brown. Add the Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce and warm through. Add 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and, using tongs, transfer the pasta to the saucepan. Using a rubber spatula, stir the pasta with the sauce often to prevent sticking. Continue to cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente and has absorbed most of the sauce. Finish with fresh basil leaves. Serve with a drizzle of super-special olive oil, and sprinkle some za'atar over the top, if you like.

Sesame Za'atar: For homemade za'atar, gather 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds; 1 tablespoon dried oregano; 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves; 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, lightly chopped; 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, lightly chopped; 1 tablespoon ground sumac; and 3/4 teaspoon finely grated orange zest. Place all ingredients in a mortar and use a pestle to press and crush until well combined. You can also finely chop the herbs and mix everything in a bowl. The za'atar will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Recipe makes a little more than 1/2 cup.

Nutrition Facts (per serving, entire recipe): 692 cal, 19 g fat, total (2 g sat. fat, 13 g monounsaturated fat, 2 g polyunsaturated fat, 0g trans fatty acid), 0 mg chol., 112 g carbo, 1168 mg sodium, 10 g fiber, 25 g sugar, 20 g pro.

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