Whenever my boyfriend asks me if I want to “make a sauce,” it is implied that it’s going to be an activity. A “sauce” is not a quick supper; it’s a flavor-developing ordeal that includes chopping and sweating onions, mincing garlic, browning sausage, and simmering for at least an hour (usually more). Caramelized tomato spaghetti is not such a sauce, and yet it is deeply flavorful, thanks to a humble can of tomato paste (and lots of browned butter).
Tomato paste, as you probably know, is a concentrated product, made by cooking tomatoes for an extended period of time to drastically reduce their water content, turning what would be a sauce (or passata) into a paste. (It’s right there in the name.) It’s deep, sweet, and tangy. When combined with browned butter and starchy pasta water, it emulsifies into a rich, intense sauce that tastes like it spent hours simmering away. And, in a way, it did. You just weren’t present for all the simmering.
It’s not only flavorful, but cheap. All you need to make this spaghetti is a six-ounce can of tomato paste (which costs a buck), a stick of butter (a little over a buck), and a pound of spaghetti (also quite cheap, depending on the brand). Brown the butter, and cook the paste in the butter until it’s dark and caramelized. Boil some spaghetti one minute shy of al dente, and reserve a couple of cups of the pasta water. Add that water to the paste, stir, and let simmer for a few minutes to thicken before finishing the pasta in the sauce. You’re done.
The sauce packs in a ton of flavor with few ingredients, but it also takes kindly to additions and modifications. Sauté some garlic or red pepper flakes in the butter before adding the paste, or season it with garlic powder while you’re simmering for a deeper, toastier flavor. The real fun is in the finishing. I like to grate a fluffy pile of Pecorino Romano on top of my spaghetti, and top it all of with crunchy fried garlic.
Caramelized Tomato Spaghetti with Browned Butter
- 1 pound of spaghetti
- 1 stick of salted butter
- 1 6-ounce can of tomato paste
- Finishers: Your favorite table cheese and/or fried garlic
Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil and cook your spaghetti according to the package instructions, shaving a minute off the cook time and stopping just short of al dente. Reserve two cups of pasta water and set aside. Drain the spaghetti.
While the pasta is boiling, melt a stick of butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Let the butter foam and sizzle until it turns a deep amber color and fills the kitchen with a wonderfully nutty aroma. Add the can of tomato paste to the butter and cook it, stirring frequently, until it darkens in color and starts to stick to the pan. Add the pasta water, and whisk to combine.
Bring the sauce to a simmer and let simmer for about five minutes, until the sauce reduces and thickens. Give it a taste and season with salt if needed, and/or sprinkle in a little garlic powder if you fancy. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to coat; cook for another minute until the pasta in al dente. Serve immediately with a freshly grated, salty cheese (and fried garlic if you have it).