WHY THIS ENGLISH GIRL’S CUP OF TEA
IS A BOWL OF PASTA
Growing up in England, it seemed like someone somewhere was always putting the kettle on. Major life events from childbirth to funerals seemed to always solicit an offer of a cup of tea as if that would somehow make everything ok. Having an Italian mother, my childhood version of a cup of tea was a bowl of pasta. If a friend was mean to me or later if a boy broke my heart, a steaming bowl of spaghetti would always make things seem a little better. And it was always spaghetti with tomato sauce. I must have watched my mother make that sauce a thousand times but when I grew up and moved into my own place in NY, I could never get it to taste quite the same. But I finally figured out where I was going wrong. The trick to a good sauce is that it MUST leave an orange ‘sheen’ of oil on your plate after you’ve hoovered up the pasta. The answer was simple; more olive oil…. A lot more olive oil. So here’s the basic recipe which can then be used as a base for a hundred different dishes from Bucatini all’Amatriciana to meatballs and which I hope to package and one day sell on Many Kitchens.
Spaghetti al pomodoro
Serves 4 people
5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 (28oz can) of plum tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon sugar
pinch of oregano
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper.
1 lb pasta (feeds 4 people as a starter)
1. Use a bigger saucepan than you think you’ll need (splattering is key!), heat the olive oil.
2. When hot, add the tomatoes so you’re essentially frying them. It’s just as important to use a good brand of tomatoes as it is to use a good brand of pasta. I can blind taste the difference between Barilla and De Cecco in a second. For tomatoes, I like to use Cirio or Mutti and for pasta, De Cecco or if you’re going artisanal, then pasta from Gragnano is the best. As sacrilegious as this may sound, I think dried pasta is better for this dish than fresh.
3. Next, add garlic cloves cut in half, sugar, oregano, bay leaf and generous amounts of salt and pepper.
4. Turn up the heat and let it splatter away. This stage can take as little as 15 minutes or you can leave it as long as 40 mins having reduced to a very low heat.
5. Discard the garlic pieces and the bay leaf. I then use a potato masher to smooth out the sauce but if you don’t have one, the back of a wooden spoon works too.
6. Boil plenty of salted water (my mother’s friend, Anna del Conte, says it should be as salty as the Mediterranean) and cook spaghetti according to packet. I estimate 5ozs per person (we still insist my mother cooks at least 7ozs per person as there never seems to be enough). Always scoop out a cup of the salty water before you drain whenever making pasta, it can be used to rehydrate leftovers or, more likely, second portions.
7. Now the important part is to add the spaghetti to the sauce and cook for another minute or two so the sauce begins to infuse the pasta.
8. Serve on warmed plates and then at the table, add all the extras; tear some fresh basil, grate some fresh parmesan and then pour some good olive oil to ensure you get that special orange sheen!