Recipe: Summer on a plate…Italian Spaghetti alla Checca in celebration of Ferragosto

In honour of the Emperor Augustus, who made this the quintessential day of rest

Today is a big holiday in Italy, a celebration of summer, with the whole country more or less closed for business in a celebration of family and togetherness.  This pasta dish hails from Campagnia (think Naples), Italian capital of all things tomato.  It is summer on a plate.  Plump and juicy tomatoes, bursting with flavour, screaming to be eaten just now—without good tomatoes this dish will fall flat.  You should also expect much of your basil.  

The mozzarella must also be fresh, the kind floating in water.  Use cow’s milk mozzarella as buffalo is too stringy and it is a crime to waste such a delicacy on a cooked dish.  The olive oil must also be fresh and green, the kind that catches at your throat and burns a bit.  The garlic is optional, but it is a shame to leave it out, particularly since it is so good for you, and we don’t often get to eat it raw.

  • 500 g Italian spaghetti or spaghettoni (de Cecco and Barilla are good widely available brands)
  • 4 very ripe, very delicious, plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and very coarsely chopped, about 300g
  • 2 fresh cow’s milk mozzarella, chopped into very small dice, 250 g, at room temperature
  • 150 ml olive oil, about two or three fingers in a mug
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced super fine
  • 10 sprigs of the freshest basil, stems discarded, and cut small with scissors
  • Sea salt to taste

Boil the water and add salt at the last moment.  Plunge in the pasta, and stir constantly at first, then periodically, to prevent sticking.

Meanwhile, chop tomatoes, mince garlic, snip basil and place in a bowl with the salt and olive oil.  Stir well.  Chop the cheese into small cubes and keep separate.

Drain the pasta when it is al dente, reserving a small cup of the pasta water to add back in case the pasta is a little dry.  Return the pasta to the still hot pot it boiled in.  Pour in the tomato mixture, stir well, and then toss in the mozzarella (toss as if it were a salad, which keeps the cheese from melting and clumping).  Serve it straight away as it will cool quickly (don’t try heating it again as the cheese will melt too much, clump, and become stringy).  Serves 4.

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