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Pasta alla Checca,
(Recipe for Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato, Basil and Garlic)

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Larry Theobald of CycleItalia is our Foodman. Not only is he passionate and knowledgable about cycling and Italy, he takes Italian cuisine and cooking very seriously. I asked him for an easy-to-prepare menu of delicious, healthy food to fuel a hungry cyclist. In keeping with the theme of our food section, the Pasta alla Checca recipe below is simple enough for any bike mechanic to prepare but tasty enough for the most demanding palate. It's a terrific summer/fall dinner because it uses fresh tomatoes and basil. What can be better than that?

Larry sends out an electronic newsletter. Each has a recipe for a tasty Italian dish plus news of upcoming CycleItalia tours. If you would like to get on his e-mail list, shoot him a note. His "contact us" link is in the upper right-hand corner of his home page.

Pasta alla Checca is a classic pasta dish with tomato, garlic, basil. Think of the fresh tomato topping for bruschetta al pomodoro mixed into pasta. You'll need:

1 lb box of dried spaghetti (get Barilla or DeCecco if possible. Settle for anything made in Italy. Avoid cheap, non-durum semolina pastas, they'll turn out mushy)

2 lbs fresh Roma tomatoes. The best ones you can find. Slice 'em in half, squirt out (and discard) the juice, pulp and seeds, then chop coarsely.

¼ cup olive oil (get some good stuff, at least extra-virgin oil from Italy in a can or green glass bottle)

¾ teaspoon salt

4 garlic gloves, chopped (don't buy jarred garlic cloves or worse, chopped garlic in a jar)

A handful of fresh basil, torn into pieces

A handful of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (DON'T buy the junk in the green cardboard can! If you can't find the real thing from Italy, buy a chunk of domestic Parmesan rather than the pre-grated stuff in the plastic bags)

Get your water boiling in your pasta pot while you prepare the ingredients. Mix the tomatoes, olive oil, salt, garlic and basil in a large bowl, set aside.

Meanwhile, cook pasta exactly to the directions on the box, not a minute longer. Drain pasta, put it back in the warm pot, then add tomato mixture, cook on low heat, stirring until well-coated, 2-3 minutes only. Remove from heat, sprinkle the cheese on top and serve.

Salad: As a side dish, make a fresh insalata mista with chopped romaine lettuce, shredded carrot, sliced tomatoes and onion. Dress with extra-virgin oil and vinegar using ½ tablespoon vinegar for each 2 tablespoons of oil and way more salt than you think you need if you want this to taste like it does in Italy. Avoid bottled salad dressings, the oil is cheap and they contain incredible amounts of salt.

Dessert: For dessert, enjoy a gelato affogato al caffe. Using your espresso machine (what, you don't HAVE an espresso machine? And you call yourself a bike racer? Get one) pull a shot or two of caffe, then pour it onto a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a small cup or dish. For less fat, use low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt if you must.

For a complete meal you should have a meat or fish course after the pasta and before the salad, but that's for another time!

Reheating notes: This dish is pretty good reheated. DO NOT USE A MICROWAVE unless you enjoy chewing on rubbery pasta. Instead, take a fry pan or shallow sauce pan with tight-fitting lid, pour in a few ounces of water, put on the lid and put on high heat. When steaming starts, turn off the heat and throw in your pasta and replace the lid. When steaming stops, take off the lid and stir a bit before serving. If its a bit dry, drizzle on a bit of olive oil.

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