A few years ago I spent a magical birthday in the hinterlands of Madison, Wisconsin. Don’t laugh. It was my idea of perfect: an exhausting full-day hike around Devil’s Lake in Baraboo, a cool modern hotel for the night, and a really special dinner at a local restaurant called Forequarter. It was deep in tomato season, and we were introduced to an irresistible dish: handmade chamomile-infused tagliatelle with blistered tomatoes and a silky duck egg yolk perched on top. This was the kind of dish that makes you put down your fork as your brain whispers “tomato, yolk, butter” over and over. It was so simple and so good.
I think wistfully about that birthday from time to time. Like when my four-year-old is threatening me because I didn’t let him have jelly beans for breakfast. Or when I need to patiently remember that summer is coming someday, and with it days of sitting in restaurants once more. Sadly, Forequarter closed last fall. But in an act of future self-preservation, I had stashed that pasta dish away in my brain.
This recipe is for when you’re missing summer tomatoes, which is, what, nine months of the year here in Chicago? The key to evoking summer tomato flavor is your broiler.
I only recently learned how to use my broiler, like in the last six months. That’s no joke. For years, I thought the broiler was in that metal drawer under my oven, which clearly is for pan storage and has no heat source. Turns out it’s at the top of my oven. And here’s a hot tip: the broiler is magic! You can cook things with it! For our purposes here, you will use your broiler to make sad supermarket tomatoes taste bold and sweet.
My preference is a pack of those Wild Ones tomatoes that include purple, yellow, red, and green in varying sizes, but any small tomatoes will work. Grape tomatoes can be used, but the skins are tough, so pluck them off once they are blistered.
Use a very fresh egg yolk, as it will be mixed raw into your pasta right before you eat it. The yolk alone makes this feel like a luxurious restaurant dish. Swirled with the jammy tomatoes, it will remind you that summer is coming back around eventually, and with it, good things.
Serves 4 (just halve the amount of tomatoes, pasta, and yolks to serve 2)
- 2 pints small tomatoes, assorted colors
- 1 clove of garlic, smashed and peeled
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 4 egg yolks, each in its own small dish (Reserve the whites for another use)
- 1 lb. wide cut pasta such as pappardelle or fettuccine, fresh or dried
Bring a large pot of water to boil so it’s ready for your pasta when you are.
Arrange tomatoes on a sheet pan and broil on high for 6-8 minutes. Check to see that the tomatoes are collapsing and popping (be careful—you can get splattered with molten tomato juice). Broil for a few more minutes until the tomatoes are soft and black in spots. Set aside.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet and add the smashed garlic. Fry gently until the garlic is light golden, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and let them cook down for 3-4 minutes. Keep the mixture on a low heat until your pasta is ready to add.
Add salt to your boiling water, cook the pasta according to the package directions until it’s still quite al dente, then drain and remove it to your tomato skillet. Reserve a cup of pasta water.
Gently mix the tomatoes with the pasta, splashing in a good amount of pasta water and letting it reduce. The pasta should be tender but toothsome, so add more pasta water if further softening is needed.
Grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano over the skillet and mix. The sauce should be glossy and coat the pasta. Taste for salt and adjust. Serve large piles of pasta piping hot, leaving a small indentation in the top to cradle the egg yolk. Slip an egg yolk into each one and encourage each diner to mix it in fully.