I had heard about Delfina before I moved to San Francisco. It's the kind of restaurant that is periodically given rave reviews in all the top food magazines, not because of a change in chef or a radical new cooking technique, but because the food is so good.
The Italian menu changes seasonally, so you'll always have different choices, but there are a couple of standbys that make consistent appearances. These are the ones that you have to watch out for. These "standbys" include a particular salad and pasta that I made sure someone in my party ordered every single time. In fact, my SF restaurant guru insisted that I order this particular pasta, all the while warning that I might not be able to order anything else ever.
And she was so right--their pasta with tomato sauce is a lesson in simplicity and perfection. The pure, clean (and addictive!) taste of that sauce is unbeatable.
Sadly, I only had the opportunity to dine at Delfina twice, once for an anniversary and another occasion when a close friend came to town. On the latter visit, we also had an amazing dessert: pear sorbetto with ricotta gelato and candied walnuts. Whew...but, that's for another time and place when I have an ice cream maker make to play with.
Because of how much Jimmy loved this particular pasta (he always ordered it and I always stole half. See why I love the guy?), I made a mental note to try and find a suitable substitute. It wasn't until I read this particular entry from the lovely Molly at Orangette that I figured out where to start my search.
After clicking on the link above, you'll notice that Molly does a fabulous job of describing a luscious tomato sauce, even going so far as to compare it to Sophia Loren. You're probably wondering why you're even still reading this particular post, since Molly has obviously already found the ultimate recipe.
Now, I fully beseech you to try that tomato sauce, made with tomatoes, half an onion and butter. It is a lovely recipe from Marcella Hazan, one of my two favorite tomato sauces, in fact. I refer to it as my "winter" tomato sauce because the rich flavor is makes me want to curl up in front of a fire, a blanket over my legs and slurp away.
However, Ms. Hazan has another stellar tomato sauce tucked into her pages that brought me much closer to Delfina nirvana.
Her tomato sauce with garlic and basil has you chuck six cloves of garlic, a few good glugs of olive oil and a can of good quality tomatoes into a pan. You let it bubble away for about half an hour until the tomatoes "release the fat", in Ms. Hazan's lovely words--which makes perfect sense once you stand over the store and watch it happen. Add some salt and pepper, fresh basil and you're set.
This is one of those go-to dishes. You know the one I mean: the dish that you crave all the time, yet seem to make every other week and is, in fact, delicious enough that you would serve it to company.
Tomato Sauce with Garlic and Basil
Adapted from "The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" by Marcella Hazan
6 medium-large cloves garlic, peeled and diced
4 Tbs. olive oil, divided
1 28 oz. can good quality whole tomatoes
crushed red pepper (optional)
fresh basil, chopped (optional)
1 lb. spaghetti (I've also used fettuccine and linguine here)
Fill a large pot with salted water and bring it to a boil.
Put the garlic and 3 Tbs. of olive oil in a large pan. Using your hands, crush each tomato before adding it to the same pan. Set aside the juices left in the can for another use.
Place the pan over medium heat, add salt, pepper and crushed red pepper (if using), and allow to simmer heartily for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce will be done once there are droplets of olive oil floating on the top of the tomatoes.
Taste the sauce for seasonings (I find that proper salting is particularly important with tomato dishes).
Cook the spaghetti until al dente and drain. Add it to the tomato sauce and toss to thoroughly combine. Add the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil and mix once again.
Plate the spaghetti and top with the fresh basil, if using, and plenty of parmesan.