Better than my mom's? I made Scott Conant's famous spaghetti at home, and here's what I found

We always get excited when we hear that a new Italian joint is coming to town, whether it’s a mom and pop deli in the Valley, or a celebrity chef restaurant in Beverly Hills. This time, it’s the latter.

And the chef involved is not a rising star, but an old acquaintance. We are talking about TV personality and cookbook author Scott Conant. Conant is not new to LA’s dining scene, even though the city that’s given him the biggest recognitions is New York. Back in 2010, his restaurant Scarpetta (now closed) gained him the title of LA Times’ Best New Chef in Los Angeles. Who knows if he can still win over today’s LA foodies, who are proving to be the most curious and demanding around. For sure, Conant is going to take advantage of the extraordinary availability of fresh produce here in California. So go and check for yourself, because The Ponte has just opened in Beverly Hills.

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Tune in at 11am — I’m making gnocchi on #TheKitchen @foodnetwork

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What can you expect to find at The Ponte? Conant let out that he is going to make good use of the wood-fired oven in the back of the restaurant. He is also famous for his pasta dishes, and his most loved one is… spaghetti al pomodoro? Yes, spaghetti with tomato sauce, the most basic and straightforward pasta dish you can get in any typical Italian household (in a good way, obviously). Each one of us has a very special place in the heart for their mom’s recipe.

I had to look into this. I took the challenge and recreated Scott Conant’s tomato spaghetti, following his recipe and indications to the letter. These below are my thoughts.

We Made Scott Conant’s Tomato Spaghetti, and You Can Too

The recipe calls for regular spaghetti, better if Gragnano’s (here’s why). The thickness is important. If you use spaghetti that are too thin, the dish won’t have the same final feel.

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When I read “six cloves of garlic” on the ingredient list I went “here we go, yet another Italian recipe that’s good for vampire hunting”. Then I looked closer: The six cloves are for the basil and garlic infused oil, one of Conant’s secrets. Infusing extra virgin olive oil with flavors, then straining it, and adding it to the tomato sauce at the end allows all the flavors to combine together without fighting with each other. So, in the end, I could barely taste the garlic, because I had obtained a perfectly balanced basil-garlic-chili-flavored tomato sauce, and learned a new trick at the same time. Thanks Scott.

I took the challenge and recreated Scott Conant’s tomato spaghetti, following his recipe and indications to the letter.

As with garlic, the presence of chili flakes was a bit unusual for me, both in the infused oil and in the sauce itself, but very common in many Italian-American recipes. Anyhow, I did not find it intrusive. In fact, I could barely feel its presence. It was more like a mild and pleasant sense of heat in my mouth.

scott conant spaghetti can be recreated at home

Challenge accepted! (Photo: Serena Boschi)

Time to use your fancy Italian extra virgin olive oil

My advice (but probably also Conant’s): Do use your best extra virgin olive oil in every step of the recipe. It is not wasted. I did not need to add the final splash to the finished dish, but just because I thought it was oily enough. Plus, the recipe also called for butter at that point. Needless to say, the outcome was, yeah, maybe a bit greasy, but oh-so-creamy and with an amazing mouthfeel, almost velvety. Adding butter was another little secret that I appreciated (but perhaps I won’t use it very often).

READ MORE: Why olive oil is good for you

I had reserved all the juice from the tomatoes, then strained it, and added it to the sauce, so in the end it was liquid enough to adhere to the pasta. I did not need to add a lot of pasta water, but that definitely helps. Never forget this step. Usually, it’s what sets apart a well-made dish of pasta with ingredients that are cohesive and blended together from a dish of pasta that is just… meh.

Another secret of Conant’s is to use a potato masher to smash the tomatoes as they cook. Well, it didn’t sound that revolutionary. Not that I regularly use a potato masher to make tomato sauce, for the record. In fact, I don’t even own one. To make a long story short, I used a fork and it worked just fine. Sometimes you need to think of what is the result you want to achieve, regardless of how you’re going to achieve it.

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If anything, making this recipe made me realize how often even the best home cook (including an Italian mamma or nonna) relies on canned products. Making the sauce from scratch, starting from fresh tomatoes, was satisfying. It definitely takes more time, but it pays off. So, if you have access to fresh and genuine produce, go for it. And don’t forget the fresh basil! At the end of the day, the whole thing was quicker and easier that it seemed. You’ll just need to involve more equipment, like a pot for boiling the tomatoes, a bowl for the water bath, etc.

As for pasta: My advice is to test doneness a minute or two before the cooking time indicated on the package. And don’t forget to salt the water as soon as it’s boiling, right before jumping the pasta in. Conant is a big fan of salty water.

making spaghetti following scott conant's recipe

Ready for restaurant-quality pasta tonight? (Photo: Serena Boschi)

Simple rules, delicious outcome

If you follow the instructions closely, you will get a properly executed plate of spaghetti, no doubt about this. The recipe is detailed and easy to follow, so I invite everybody to try to recreate this dish at home. As a conclusion, I’d say that it’s the sauce that makes the difference. Pasta is pasta, as long as you buy a good quality package and nail the cooking. Something that we Italians take for granted, I know.

Photos by Serena Boschi for Foodiamo. All right reserved.

The Ponte
8265 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 746-5130


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