entry 1. pummarola
I've already posted my favorite Italian pasta dishes but for the sake of the challenge, i'll post again. The key to Italian cooking is "less is more" - Italians don;t like food that is "sofisticato" - which means both sophisticated but also overly manipulated with stuff that's not really wholesome. Also presentation is generally simple. A little parsley or basil (depending on the ingredients) on top, maybe. Sometimes. If someone "plated" pasta I think it would be considered a sign of something too "sofisticato" and looked on with suspicion. If you're making a spiral of the spaghetti, people will think you're spending too much time handling it and it's bound to be too cold.
But one problem is that the real beauty of italian dishes is the local ingredients, locally picked and usually not refrigerated. So try to get the best ingredients you can. If the carrots and celery still have the leaves on top, they're probably fresh, because the leaves deteriorate first. The onions should be hard and tight like baseballs. You should be able to smell the tomatoes before cutting them.
Anyway, here is my favorite pasta sauce of all, "Pummarola" simply means "tomato" in Neapolitan dialect.
Take the best tomatoes you can find, red, ripe, sweet, or good canned tomatoes.
add a stalk of celery, a carrot, an onion (i would use a tropea onion, long, red, and very sweet) and a couple of garlic cloves. No herbs, they would overpower the dish. The idea is you should be able to taste the tomato, the celery, the carrot and the onion.
Put them all, cut roughly in large chunks, in a heavy bottomed saucepan, with salt and pepper. Cook slowly until the juices run, mashing up the tomatoes a little to facilitate the process, and let it cook till the vegetables are tender and NO LONGER than that. The taste depends on the freshness of the flavors, not over cooked (not all tomato sauce simmers all day). And the fact that the aromatic vegetables are cooked in the tomato and not in oil or butter makes the flavor all the more fresh-tasting.
Once the vegetables are soft, pass it through a food mill (traditional way) or use an immersion blender. If you use a regular blender, either let it cool a lot first or put only one ladelful at a time in or it will spatter you all over and give you some nasty burns.
Cook the pasta (I definitely prefer the dried pasta, preferably the kind that's made with a bronze extruder and the surface looks sort of white and rough). When al dente, drain, immediately put two or three handfuls of grated parmigiano and a chunk of butter on it - DON'T STIR or all the cheese will stick to the pot and the spoon and not to the pasta) and leave a minute till the cheese begins to melt. WITHOUT STIRRING add the sauce, THEN mix it all up together. The cheese and butter will meld into the sauce and the pasta.
I really recommend you try this, using the best absolutely freshest local ingredients possible. (tomatoes can be canned, and will have to be except for the very short growing season they may have in your area). This is the best of italian cooking, simple, identifiable flavors. I would put a picture but you'd just see pasta with red sauce, looking pretty much like any other red sauce.