Sicilian-Style Spaghetti Alla Carrettiera (Fresh Tomato and Garlic Sauce) Recipe

Fresh tomato, basil, olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and breadcrumbs are all you need to whip up this rapid, wonderfully fresh Sicilian pasta sauce.

Side view of Sicilian carrettiera

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Why It Works

  • Grating the tomato flesh releases its juices while leaving it somewhat chunky.
  • Rapidly mixing the hot spaghetti and its water with the fresh sauce ingredients creates an emulsified sauce that clings to every strand of spaghetti.

This Sicilian pasta sauce couldn't be quicker or easier to make: Roughly purée some tomatoes, mix them with raw minced garlic, chopped basil, olive oil, and red pepper flakes and then toss with cooked spaghetti and some of its starchy water as soon as it's cooked. Some toasted breadcrumbs, meanwhile, help thicken and emulsify the sauce.

Because the sauce is heated only by the pasta and its cooking water, it retains all of its fresh tomato and basil flavor. It reminds us both of a basic spaghetti al pomodoro crudo as well as the tomatoey pesto alla Trapanese, saucier than the former and simpler and faster to whip up than the latter.

That ease is tied to its history: In the olden days, wandering cart drivers would crisscross the Italian countryside, selling goods, wares, and basic cooking ingredients to the townspeople along the way. When they were hungry, they'd quickly whip up a sauce like this using just the basic ingredients they had on their cart.

This is just one example, though. Some Sicilian recipes add grated Sicilian Pecorino cheese or ricotta salata, while others omit the tomatoes. The variations are endless (as you travel farther north to Rome, the sauce shifts to a cooked version packed with shelf-stable ingredients like canned tomato, canned tuna, and dried porcini mushrooms).

Keep that in mind when you make this: You can make your own version based on what you have on hand. Don't have fresh basil? Some fresh parsley works well, too. Low on tomatoes? Make an in bianco ("white") version without them. Just like the cart drivers of long ago, your carrettiera sauce can be whatever you need and want it to be.

March 2020

Recipe Facts

Active: 25 mins
Total: 25 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 pounds (566g) plum tomatoes (about 5 tomatoes)

  • 1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling if needed

  • 1/4 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped fresh basil leaves

  • 3 medium cloves garlic, finely minced

  • 1 large pinch red pepper flakes

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 pound (450g) dried spaghetti

  • 1/2 cup (1 1/4 ounces; 35g) lightly toasted panko breadcrumbs, divided

  • Grated Sicilian Pecorino or ricotta salata, for serving (optional)

Directions

  1. Grate tomatoes on largest holes of a box grater into a large heatproof mixing or serving bowl until only the skin remains in your hand; it's okay if some slightly larger pieces of tomatoes and some skin get through, though you can discard the large pieces of skin. Add olive oil, basil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Stir well and season with salt to taste. Set aside.

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  2. Return water to a boil and season with salt. Cook spaghetti, stirring frequently, until al dente. When pasta has almost finished cooking, transfer 1/4 cup (30ml) pasta cooking water to tomato mixture and whisk to form an emulsion.

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  3. Using tongs, transfer pasta to tomato mixture along with an additional 1/4 cup (60ml) pasta cooking water. Vigorously toss and stir pasta to emulsify sauce and coat noodles. Add half of the breadcrumbs and toss to combine. The pasta should be well coated with creamy, emulsified sauce. If it seems dry, add extra pasta water and olive oil, 1 tablespoon (15ml) at a time, until it reaches the desired consistency. Taste for seasoning.

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  4. Transfer pasta to warmed plates and sprinkle with remaining breadcrumbs. Top with cheese, if desired. Serve right away.

Special equipment

Box grater

Make-Ahead and Storage

This sauce is best made fresh, and the pasta is best enjoyed right away.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
637 Calories
20g Fat
96g Carbs
17g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 637
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 20g 26%
Saturated Fat 3g 15%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 392mg 17%
Total Carbohydrate 96g 35%
Dietary Fiber 5g 20%
Total Sugars 7g
Protein 17g
Vitamin C 17mg 84%
Calcium 60mg 5%
Iron 5mg 26%
Potassium 557mg 12%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)