This morning I went to Mercato Centrale in search of fresh ingredients for a traditional Italian lunch. I bought an espresso from the little bar in the market and chatted with the owner. Later I found him in the fruit and vegetable tent, where he was talking to the men running a produce stand. The bar owner asked me what I wanted to make; I said a tomato sauce and then the men working the stand snatched up six tomatoes, a bundle of fresh basil, two onions, and a head of garlic and asked me for 4 Euros before I could even say “Ciao.” I went back inside the market and bought half a kilo of ground beef for one Euro at my favorite butcher’s stand, half a kilo of fresh tortellini for 3 Euro from the pasta maker that only speaks Italian, and I had everything I needed for the perfect lunch.
What you’ll need:
500 grams of ground beef (if you are vegetarian, you can ignore this ingredient and start at step 3 of the recipe)
2 small onions
6 cloves of garlic
8-10 leaves of fresh basil
500 grams of a pasta of your choice (in this case I used fresh tortellini because it’s available, but any pasta will work)
salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Serves 3-4 people.
1. First, rinse the produce well in cold water. Then dice the tomatoes, onions, and garlic and set them aside. Pick the basil leaves off the stem and set aside.
2. Next, in a large pot (with a lid) brown the ground beef on medium heat, making sure not to burn the beef, this should take about 10 to 15 minutes if the meat is fresh.
3. Drain the excess fat, and turn the heat down to low and add the tomatoes, onions, garlic, fresh basil, salt, and pepper–stir well. Let the sauce simmer until it reduces down to a thick, meaty consistency, about an hour to an hour and a half, stir occasionally.
4. After an hour of letting the sauce simmer or after the sauce is finished, cook the pasta. In a large pot, boil twice as much water as there is pasta–my friend at the market tells me this is key to good pasta. When the water is at a roiling boil, add in your pasta. If it is fresh, it only takes 5-8 minutes to cook the pasta, dried pasta can take up to 15 minutes.
5. Drain the pasta and let cool. Mix your sauce and pasta together and top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.