Cherry Tomatoes Poached in Basil Olive Oil and White Wine with Spelt Spaghetti

I think we all know that tomatoes are one of the richest sources of lycopene and thought to be one of the most potent carotenoid antioxidants. What most of us might not know is that unlike other vegetables and fruits, where nutritional content is usually diminished upon cooking, cooking tomatoes actually increases the concentration of lycopene (the lycopene in tomato paste, for example, is some four times more bioavailable than fresh tomatoes). Additionally, lycopene is a fat soluble substance, so oil can help absorption. Cooking (or even just eating tomatoes with olive oil, as it is traditionally prepared or served in tomato-loving Italy and Spain) is right on the mark, as oils have long been heralded to greatly improve the assimilation of lycopene from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. And, let’s not forget that olive oil itself is one of the world’s most beloved longevity foods. In a particularly exceptional Institute of Integrative Nutrition course lecture, Dr. Andrew Weil’s says “coconut oil doesn’t hold a candle to olive oil” (with respect to nutritional benefit)…but, who has to choose between the two? My coco and olive oil sit happily next to each other in my kitchen!

My son eats his veggies pretty well for an 8 year old, but he will devour anything with tomato sauce, so like any tomato sauce lover, I have at least a dozen recipes in my repertoire ranging from Italian arrabbiata to Spanish sofrito to Indian masala—to fit different moods. We’re growing cherry tomatoes in our garden and I just love how sweet they are fresh (I can eat them like cherries), but I also love how poaching cherry tomatoes whole bursts them open to flavor a sauce with their sweetness. I admit I like this recipe of mine too because I can skip peeling the tomatoes (sometimes the skins don’t slip off as easily, do they?!). The food prep is easy, but the long simmer results in a garlic-y, basil-y, tomato-y, olive oil rich sauce to eat on any pasta you like.

As a child, long before I even knew where Italy was on a map, spaghetti was one of my favorite foods. Since then, I'm sure I've eaten several times my weight in Italy. When it comes to cooking at home, I prefer to cook gluten free noodles (such as rice or buckwheat) because eating wheat can result in my looking 4 months pregnant within an hour of eating it, but I'm also concerend about modern wheat's untold modifications and its supergluten structure (you can read up on this yourself and let your research determine where you stand on this theory). Spelt pasta isn’t a 'perfect' food, but it's kinder to me, so when I want something closer to 'real' pasta, I turn to this ancient grain that behaves very close to wheat, but that I can tolerate better. The best brand I've found where I live in Spain is the German Demeter organic spelt spaghetti, which can be cooked a nice al dente very similar to wheat durum. If you can tolerate a little gluten, spelt pasta might be a great alternative.

Buon appetito! To your health and happiness! xx, Juli

Ingredients (for 500g of pasta; serves 4 - 6)

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • small pinch of peperoncino (chili flakes)
  • 4 - 5 cloves garlic, minced (the garlic will mellow from simmering for an hour)
  • 8 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon coconut sugar
  • 1 cup dry white wine   
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • parmigiano reggiano (parmesan cheese, optional; omit to keep it vegan)
  • bocconcini (small mozzarella cheese balls available in buffalo or cow milk, optional)
  • 500g spelt spaghetti (or other pasta), cooked al dente
  1. In a large saucepan over medium low heat, combine olive oil and shallots and cook until they are translucent and tender, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add garlic and cook for another 5 minutes until garlic is soft and the olive oil is really fragrant (be careful not to burn the garlic).
  3. Add cherry tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, and white wine and simmer for about 15-20 minutes.
  4. Add fresh basil to the tomato sauce, partially cover, and simmer on low heat for another hour, stirring occasionally so the sauce doesn’t burn.
  5.  The cherry tomatoes will burst, but don’t crush or mash them into sauce. Remove the wilted and cooked basil leaves as their color isn’t so pretty anymore. They’ve done their job of infusing the sauce with their fragrant sweetness.
  6. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and add a little more pepperoncino if you like it quite spicy.
  7. Garnish with fresh basil and if you eat cheese, a little sprinkle of parmigiano reggiano is perfect. For my kids, I serve the spaghetti in little nests, drizzle it with sauce, and top it with a mozzarella cheese ball. That makes them so happy!