Pasta with Checca Sauce

If you don’t like garlic, you are excused for today. Sorry, but there is a big heap of raw garlic in this dish. But if you do like garlic and you favor fresh and robust flavors served with simplicity, you must try this pasta dish. The sauce is a raw sauce made in the food processor. You prep your veggies, grab a few cheeses, cook some pasta and throw it all together. A focused cook (not I with the kids and the cameras and the dogs and the hermit crabs and the blaring Nintendos) could easily pull this off in 30 minutes. But, in all seriousness, I last made this with a whopping 6 cloves of raw garlic. You might scale it back to 3 the first time you make it.

I found a variation of this Checca Sauce recipe four years ago. Checca Sauce is a traditional Italian dish that highlights the quality of fresh tomatoes during the height of the season. I saw Giada De Laurentis making it on TV as I surfed past the Food Network and was fascinated by the notion of a raw pasta sauce. So I ran to the computer and searched until I found it. I have changed the amounts of the ingredients but the source of my inspiration is absolutely her recipe, so bravo, Giada. She served it with Spaghettini. I prefer it with other types of pasta. You should choose something that pleases you but make sure that it is a type of pasta that will hold onto some of the sauce. I chose these really large Macaroni noodles that I found at Whole Foods. It was a lucky trip because I also found some really lovely grape tomatoes from a Fredericksburg, TX farm and a few heads of really nice firm garlic. Of course, I spent half the trip on the cell phone with my sister in law Val (who along with her partner Jane designed this little cyber cottage I call home) talking about a design piece they are creating for me and totally forgot to buy Parmesan.

I love the look a kid gives you when you have subjected them to a meandering confused shopping trip and then you inform them after you have checked out that you are going to start all over again. We parked the cart and headed back to the cheese department. The only blatantly obvious Parmesan product was a Parmesan-Reggiano that looked dandy but it was $19.99 a pound. That just wasn’t doing it for me. So I found an employee to help me. And lo and behold there were a minimum of three nice and knowledgeable guys back there who took on my cheapo challenge and directed me to an Argentinian Parmesan that was about a fourth of the price. They also carry an Australian product that one of the guys was excited about. And, he was actually about to go back into the depths of “the back” to find me some but I waived him off and happily took the Argentinian. Happy days. And, it was delicious. Moral to the story…I am of the opinion that Whole Foods is jam packed with employees who love food as much as I do. And unlike many shopping destinations, they love it when you have questions because they all have favorites and opinions. So speak up.

Also, olive oil matters here. Everything is fresh and in your face, flavor-wise. So do yourself a favor. If you have never actually tasted the olive oil that you use, get out a spoon and pour yourself a spoonful of your olive oil and taste it. Actually consider whether you like the oil. I have 4 bottles of olive oil in my pantry right now, each one more interesting than the last. But in this dish, I decided I didn’t want interesting. I just wanted a good oil that wasn’t going to carry the dish off in its own direction. So that is my dare for the day. Go taste your oil.  And read your label. Not until recently did I know that the U.S. is way behind on establishing standards for olive oils and many olive oils have other oils added to them. I digress.


Pasta with Checca Sauce
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Recipe type: entree
Author:
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
If you don't just adore garlic, consider cutting the amount of garlic in half.
Ingredients
  • 8 to 10 ounces of pasta
  • 7 scallions (a small bundle…whites and light greens only) coarsely chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed (or 3 if you are smarter than I…seriously!)
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 2 ounces of parmesan cheese, broken into small chunks
  • 20 fresh basil leaves
  • 4 ounces Mozzarella cheese, cut into small pieces
  • 3 to 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. While waiting for the water to boil, prep all of your vegetables. Halve the tomatoes. Chop the scallions and smash the garlic. Once you have put the pasta in the water, process the vegetables while the pasta cooks. Put all of the vegetables, the Parmesan, and the olive oil into the bowl of a food processor. Do not add the Mozzarella at this point. Process until it is coarse but not pulverized. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper.
  2. Drain the pasta. In a large bowl, combine the hot pasta and the sauce. Throw in the Mozzarella pieces and stir them into the pasta. Serve this with Parmesan cheese on the side.

I found salt to be critical to the taste of the recipe. It brightens up the vegetables considerably. Be prudent, of course, but don’t omit the salt. Also, be aware that while the pasta starts out hot, the sauce is room temperature. The pasta is enough to start melting the Mozzarella but this is not intended to be a steaming hot dish.  And while I have not had it cold as leftovers, I’d bet it is wonderful.

This is a dish you need to bring to the table in a big bowl. It is so pretty and fresh. It is practically a center piece for your table.

Comments

  1. Julie Wayman says

    Pasta with Checcha sauce sounds great! I’ll try it when we return from France and Italy! In the meantime we will feast on some great Italian pasta at the source! We do enjoy tasting really good olive oil as well as Balsamic vinegar in Tuscany. There IS a difference.

    Thanks for being such good friends to Steave and Karen, especially thru these tough times.

    Julie

  2. Susan, MF's daughter, cuzin' says

    Can’t wait to try this one! Maybe this weekend! Made the orzo salad Sunday, WONDERFUL!

  3. Susan, MF's daughter, cuzin' says

    Kelly, have you invited yourself to the Dallas Morning News? They have freelance writers every Wednesday. Your stuff is much better!

  4. Kelly says

    No, Susan, I haven’t. But I will certainly look into. That’s a very nice compliment by the way. Thank you!

  5. Bill says

    Found a tip in Cooks Illustrated for cutting lots of cherry tomatoes. You might like the meditative process of cutting one at a time, but for people like me, that is a lot of dangerous time with a sharp knife. You take a couple plastic lids, the size that fit the top of cottage cheese containers. Put a small handful of cherry tomatoes on one, use the other on top to hold them, then slice horizontally across through the middle. Best tip I found in a long time. I saw all the cherry tomatoes in this recipe and thought that might help. Looks tasty.

  6. Kelly says

    Hi Bill! I have seen this tip before and I have never tried it. I’m glad to hear that it actually works. I will definitely give it a shot next time. The main question is whether or not, in my extremely disorganized kitchen, it would take me longer to find two appropriate lids than to cut the tomatoes. That might be a draw. That might be an indication that I should do something about my kitchen. I think the tips section of Cooks Illustrated is one of my favorite features in any cooking magazine on Earth.

  7. says

    I’ve been making this sauce for almost 30 years and didn’t know it had a name! It’s the BEST. My Italian neighbors in Milan, all those years ago, told me to add either walnuts or pine nuts. I use pine nuts and they are yummy.

  8. Kelly says

    Friends, Betty is being modest. She is a Texan living in Italy who lovingly creates an estate bottled, traditional olive oil called Tutta Toscana. Click her name to explore her website and learn about her olive oil. Flavors from Afar carries it, as well. My mother and I have been using her oil for several years and it is very good. She also told me that this Checca sauce is pronounced like “cake-a” which I didn’t know, and that it is still legitimately a Checca sauce even if you scale the fresh garlic back. I’m excited to try this with pine nuts next time, as you all know I’m always looking for ways to use up pine nuts after making pesto…and now I have several recipes including this one!

  9. Piper says

    I tried this, and it was really good except for the garlic. I am a garlic lover, so I didn’t heed the warning, but 6 cloves of fresh garlic was too much!

  10. Kelly says

    Yikes! Sorry, Piper. Garlic is a funny thing. Raw garlic can be particularly pungent, thus the warning. We like garlic to a degree that is almost silly. I also think there is a lot of difference between varieties and stages of maturity (of the garlic, of course). So I’m glad you posted this. I hope you come back and try another recipe…perhaps one with cooked garlic.

    Seriously folks, it is a lot of garlic, so either taste your garlic before you start or consider scaling it back a bit. I like it the way it is, but it is STRONG.

  11. Michaela says

    It was WONDERFUL!
    I didn’t have a food processor so I had to use a blender and chop it, which probably wasn’t the same effect, but it was still wonderful.

  12. says

    This is gorgeous! Am making it right now, but mine turned out pretty watery without the olive oil :\ Its okay though, the taste is AMAZING!

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