I'm sure a lot of you have heard of this recipe, maybe seen it in one of those pop up cooking videos on Facebook or seen a friend instagram it in disbelief. If recipes can be viral, I'm pretty sure this one is up there with microwave mug cakes, Marcella Hazan's three ingredient tomato sauce, and Baker's one bowl brownies. It's alarmingly simple, almost too good to be true. All you have to do is chop an onion and boil some water and boom, you have your dinner ready to go.
So how does this work? As the pasta cooks it releases starch, which is a natural thickening agent, so as the water reduces and the starch increases, you get almost a sort of sauce. The tomatoes boil until they burst, the onions soak and sweat and yield their sweetness to the resulting sauce. It's simple, it's satisfying, and if you get the measurements right on the first go, very easy.
So did it work? Well, sort of. One of the things about this recipe that troubles me is that all pastas have different cooking times. The comments on Martha Stewart's recipe for this all suggest that you should buy very high quality pasta, so I did. However her recipe said to cook the pasta for 9 minutes, and the bag I bought suggested 7 minutes cooking time. In the end I think my pasta cooked for around 12 to 14 minutes, and the pasta ended up perfectly al dente. Perhaps the lack of liquid slows down the cooking time? I also was actually left with a good amount of liquid, which is why I cooked my pasta longer. In the end I added a little under a cup of freshly microplane parmesan to thicken the broth, basically in the style of cacio e peppe. This worked really well and added a little extra dimension to the flavors.
So does it work? Yes, but you need to make sure everything is measured perfectly and don't buy cheap pasta!
- 12 ounces linguine
- 12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
- 1 onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
- 2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- 4 1/2 cups water
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Combine pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red-pepper flakes, basil, oil, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and water in a large straight-sided skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil mixture, stirring and turning pasta frequently with tongs, until pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes.
Season to taste with salt and pepper, divide among 4 bowls, and garnish with basil. Serve with oil and Parmesan.