I have a standing date with Evan Kleiman on Saturday mornings at 11am. I imagine, so do most of you? For the hour that Good Food on KCRW airs, I’m completely in my comfort zone. Farmer’s market profiles, recipes, food historians, the weekly anticipated Jonathan Gold review, I’m always enthralled.
As a native of L.A., Evan Kleiman also means Angeli Caffe, which means childhood comfort food to me. It opened in 1984 just a few blocks from my elementary school. The ever-popular modern trattoria on Melrose Avenue was a mainstay of my best friend’s family. I remember many a night, pre sleepover, post long pool days, and definitely after school plays (we may have still been in our 4th grade “Fiddler on the Roof” make-up), devouring the Spaghetti alla Checca , and that bread…oh that bread.
Many years later and still close friends with her and her brother, we all rented a house together just down the street from Angeli. We regularly went together and with other friends. And, those many years later, the Checca was just as good. The elegant simplicity of both the restaurant and the food never failed to deliver. Though, in January of 2012, Evan Kleiman sadly decided to close Angeli’s doors for good. I may never have that pizza dough bread again, but I’d be damned if I couldn’t somehow replicate the Checca.
The true beauty of a checca is the ease of it. It’s a raw sauce generally consisting of ripe summer tomatoes, garlic and basil. Chop, let macerate, and pour over perfectly al dente spaghetti. Still to this day, when I eat this dish, I can feel my 8 year old hot pink post pool/bike riding cheeks slurping up the spaghetti and searching for more of the melty mozzarella.
Spaghetti alla Checca
Influenced and adapted from Evan Kleiman’s Angeli Caffe
What you’ll need:
Lots of ripe tomatoes, chopped (about 2 pints cherry or 5-6 large)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 -1 cup of good extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
8 fresh basil leaves, gently torn
6-8 oz fresh mozzarella, chopped and brought to room temperature
1 lb dried spaghetti
In a large bowl, mix tomatoes, garlic, basil, salt, and pepper. Add enough olive oil to cover the tomato mixture. Let the sauce sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours. Cook the pasta in a large pot of heavily salted boiling water. Trust the pasta experts here, take the pasta out 1 minute before the suggested time on the back of the package. You definitely want that al dente bite with this fresh sauce. Pour pasta into a serving bowl. Top with mozzarella and tomato mixture, and quickly mix well to coat.
Makes 4-6 servings.