Rigatoni con pomodoro e capperi

Early morning is filled with the perfume of cooking along the streets of Naples. The smell of garlic lightly frying in olive oil travels freely through open kitchen windows. The aroma of slowly cooking tomatoes follow. The sun warms as the scent of rosemary makes its journey across the terraces and balconies of this lively southern Italian city.

The trinity formed by tomato, rosemary and garlic inevitably remind me of the many bowls of pasta shared with friends in their garden near Pozzuoli. The addition of capers and basil serve as a reminder of time spent in Giovanna’s kitchen. The following recipe is a perfect example of shared family tradition and simply prepared food authentic to its origin.


  • 500 grams canned San Marzano or plum tomatoes
  • two sprigs of rosemary
  • two cloves of fresh garlic
  • 50 grams of extra virgin olive oil
  • 25 grams of salted capers
  • 20 fresh basil leaves
  • 250 grams rigatoni pasta
  • 200 grams of fresh mozzarella made of buffalo milk

Peel the garlic cloves and cut them into paper-thin slices.  Pour the olive oil into a sauce pan and fry the garlic a minute or two at medium heat. Add the rosemary sprigs and a bit of salt. Chop the plum tomatoes or crush them through your fingers into the sautéed garlic. Cook the tomatoes 20 minutes until a sauce with a jam-like consistency has been obtained. Take the sauce from the stove, leaving it in the warm pan. Remove the sprigs of rosemary.

Meanwhile rinse off the salted capers and soak them in a bowl of hot water for ten minutes. The mozzarella is already at room temperature, resting on the counter top. Tear the leaves of basil from their stems. Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta, adding the basil stems and a small espresso spoon of sea salt.

Drain the capers and chop them coarsely, stirring them through the tomato sauce. Taste the sauce after a few minutes, adding salt only if needed. Boil the rigatoni pasta al dente. Tear the mozzarella into four wedges. Drain the pasta and toss it with the tomato capper sauce. Add a drizzle of olive oil to the pasta and put in a family-sized serving bowl.  Toss the torn basil leaves over the top of the pasta and arrange the mozzarella around its outer edges.

Add a few rosemary sprigs to the bowl to decorate. Bring the rigatoni to the table with a slender bottle of local olive oil, red pepper chili salt and a wedge of Pecorino cheese.

♦  Suggested combination
Serve the pasta as a dish in itself followed by a salad of crisp green lettuce leaves dressed with lemon and olive oil. If the occasion asks for a second course, grill red and yellow peppers, serving them at room temperature with baked calamari and a bowl of purple olives.

Serve fresh fruit in a bowl of ice water for dessert.

♦  Notes
San Marzano tomatoes are cultivated in the province of Salerno in the shadow of the mountain Vesuvius in the region of Campania. This variety of plum tomato has little to no seeds and more flesh than the Roma tomato.

The San Marzano tomato is widely considered to make the best tomato sauce because of its natural sweetness. It is also one of the essential ingredients of the authentic pizza Margherita of Naples.

The San Marzano is also known as an heirloom tomato and is grown in other parts of the world. The tomato cultivated in San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese is however protected by the title D.O.P. for its designation of origin.

That said and done, look for San Marzano plum tomatoes sold in your area, or grow your own vines on a balcony or in the garden with heirloom seeds.

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