Late-Night Pasta Sauce with Pine Nuts and Raisins

From Marcella Says…: Italian Cooking Wisdom from the Legendary Teacher’s Master Classes, with 120 of Her Irresistible New Recipes by Marcella Hazan (Harper Collins, 2004)

At the hour that some of my neighbors in Florida are already halfway into their night’s sleep, many Italians are beginning to feel a gnawing emptiness that needs to be filled with a quick plate of spaghetti. The main meal in Italy usually comes early in the day, at noontime, so that it’s not uncommon for those who stay up late, and not a few do, particularly in the South, to experience hunger when the night is at it’s zenith. It is these sensations that have given rise to la spaghettata della mezzanotte, which might be translated informally as the midnight spaghetti bash. The sauces for a spaghettata have to fulfill two requirements: They must be of the quickest to make because no one wants to start cooking something lengthy at midnight, and they must taste lively. The one below fills the bill on both counts.

Serves 4 to 6 

1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
2 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water
Fine sea salt
1 pound boxed pasta, preferably spaghettini (thin spaghetti), or very small penne
A warm serving bowl

  1. Let the raisins steep in lukewarm water to cover until they swell. Drain them and chop them coarsely.
  2. Chop the pine nuts coarsely, then mash them slightly, using the flat side of a knife blade or a meat pounder.
  3. Put the olive oil and chopped garlic in a small skillet, turn on the heat to medium, and cook just until the garlic becomes colored a pale gold, but no darker. Add the chopped pine nuts and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Add the chopped raisins, stir well, and cook for just a few seconds. Turn off heat.
  4. Cook the pasta in 4 quarts of salted, rapidly boiling water. When almost done, turn the heat under the skillet containing the sauce to medium low, retrieve about 2 tablespoonfuls of the pasta cooking water, and add it to the sauce together with some salt, stirring rapidly.
  5. Drain the pasta the moment it is cooked al dente, tender but firm to the bite. Immediately transfer it to the warm serving bowl and toss it with the sauce. Serve at once.