When I think char, I can’t help think of the Lebanon. When I visited, I was intrigued how food would be charred within an inch of its life and I saw it over and over again be it almonds for garnishes, eggplant for dip, or onions for a stew. Sure, I lightly toast food to amp up the crunch factor and nutty flavor, but taking it to that extra charred state lends a smoky almost bitter note to things.
I’m now hooked on all things char and have come to desire a hint of bitterness in my savory dishes. So, I took those toasted memories and came up with this Burst Tomato Pasta with Charred Walnuts. One bite and I think it's clear these under-appreciated tomatoes found their moment to shine.
divided, plus more for garnish
sliced paper thin
sliced paper thin
washed and thoroughly dried
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, place the walnuts in a dry small pan over medium heat and cook until they are dark golden brown and seriously toasted (you want them to be on the edge of being burnt but do not burn them)! Add pasta and cook according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup pasta water and drain pasta.
To avoid adding cold oil to the pan, pour the second part of the oil down the inner edge of the pan so that it is hot by the time it hits the onions and garlic.
Meanwhile, add 2 tablespoons of the oil to a heavy bottomed large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the shallots, stir in a pinch of salt and a few cranks of pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Add the remaining oil, add the garlic and tomatoes, stir to coat in oil, then cook covered, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes start to collapse, about 4 to 5 minutes. With the back of a spoon or a potato masher, carefully smash any tomatoes that haven't already collapesed. Add 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and the pomegranate molasses to the pan and stir to incorporate any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Stir in butter until melted, taste, and add salt or sugar, as desired.
Because you're using a sweet-tart syrup to up the sweet-tartness of the tomatoes, be sure to taste your tomatoes before cooking. If they are on the sour side, you may need to add a pinch of sugar to the sauce. If they're overly sweet, you might want to add a dash more pomegranate molasses.
Add the pasta and stir to coat with the sauce. Add remaining pasta water, as needed, so that the sauce delicately coats each strand of pasta. Stir in walnuts and basil or parsley and toss to coat the pasta. Taste, add more salt and pepper or oil as desired and serve immediately.
Food styling and photography by Aida Mollenkamp