The Food Chain

John Fraser Is Seduced by the Simplicity of Scarpetta’s Spaghetti

Scarpetta's spaghetti with tomato and basil.
Scarpetta’s spaghetti with tomato and basil. Photo: Chris Villano/Courtesy of Scarpetta

On each edition of the Food Chain, we ask a chef to describe a dish he or she recently enjoyed. The chef who prepared the dish responds and then picks his or her own memorable meal. On and on it goes. Last time, Kin Shop’s Harold Dieterle professed his admiration for John Fraser’s pumpkin soup, served at Dovetail. What’s caught your attention, John?

“The spaghetti [with tomato and basil] at Scarpetta. The beauty of it is its simplicity, just a few ingredients done well. The pasta recipe is perfect. It’s actually harder to nail a simple dish than a complex one. There are only four parts to the dish, so every one needs to be done perfectly or it will be out of balance. And it speaks to the dish most of us grew up on, so there is a soulful element that makes me feel like I want to slurp each tangle of pasta one by one.”

And now, Chef Scott Conant weighs in on the secrets of his spaghetti:

“It’s probably not what I do to it, it’s what I don’t do to it. I try to let the natural flavors speak for themselves. It’s a combination of a lot of things done well. I used fresh peeled tomatoes; I don’t use canned tomatoes unless I have to. Roma tomatoes. I cook the tomatoes for about 45 minutes. I add infused oil that contains basil and crushed red pepper. It’s tossing the pasta à la minute — I use fresh pasta — and adding a little bit of Parmesan and butter, and a little bit of basil. As the pasta’s cooking, I reduce that sauce, reduce out the liquid, add a little more extra-virgin olive oil. When the pasta’s about three-quarters done, I put it in with the tomato sauce. As the pasta cooks, it’s absorbing the tomato sauce. It’s very important. I’ll add the basil while it’s cooking in the pan. When I add the butter it sees no more heat, and then I add the Parmesan.”

John Fraser Is Seduced by the Simplicity of Scarpetta’s Spaghetti