As a fifth-grader with an enormous appetite for carbohydrates and Nickelodeon, you could often find me sitting in my parent’s pink leather recliner eating a bowl of delicious processed foods every day after school.
Sitting in my lap was usually a bowl containing a small mountain of spaghetti, topped with Prego-brand tomato sauce, a flurry of Kraft shredded mozzarella cheese and a single hard-boiled egg, sliced in half.
I’d be lying if I said my mother didn’t still tempt me to come visit her with promises of feeding me this specific version of spaghetti. Toward the end of her plea, she’ll lower her voice a few decibels and with dramatic pause say, “and… I’ll even put an egg on top.”
Somehow, I ended up marrying a guy who loathes carbs and scrunches his nose at the thought of pasta for dinner. In an attempt to not let him ruin the rest of my life, it became my mission to make a version that was so dope he couldn’t refuse it. Spaghetti could one day grace our TV dinner fold-up tables once again.
In order to do that, I replaced all of the mainstream branded versions of ingredients with fresh plum tomatoes, garlic, basil, and a block of expensive Whole Foods cheese.
After searching the Internet and finding the equivalent of an unabridged Kama Sutra library with fifteen million different ways to seed and core tomatoes, I chose what I thought would be the most straightforward way to go about it.
Taking a paring knife, I cut around the stem halfway through to the tomato’s equator (analogies are the only way I understand most food prep instruction) and popped the core right out.
I boiled the tomatoes for fifteen seconds and then shocked them in ice water to get them to shed their peels. Science!
Then I poured some of the best goddamn olive oil I could find into a small pot, mashed up the tomatoes (ideally with a potato masher, but I used a variety of random masher-like tools I found in my miscellaneous kitchen tools drawer) and stirred them occasionally on medium-high heat for 45 minutes.
This is probably a good time to mention that I once paid $24 for a deceivingly simple plate of pasta at Dolce in Miami Beach, which at one time offered Chef Scott Conant’s famous Scarpetta spaghetti on their menu. Plenty of people have probably asked why he could charge an abhorrently high price for a seemingly simple handful of spaghetti, but it’ll actually make you question every other spaghetti dish you’ve ever had. The secret is in the infused olive oil.
As the tomatoes were bubbling away, I placed the olive oil on low heat, adding a few leaves of basil, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a handful of whole garlic cloves for about 20 minutes, or until the cloves were starting to brown.
After the tomato sauce was in a good place (and after adding more of the leftover tomato juice to keep it from getting too thick,) I strained the infused olive oil over the sauce. From my understanding of how this infused olive oil trick works, the idea is that the last thing you add to the sauce should be the first thing you taste. Makes sense.
The last and most impactful thing I did to my spaghetti was “marry” it with the sauce. Marrying in this sense is the act of getting the pasta, sauce, and a little bit of the pasta water to mingle together and absorb each other’s powers. If you ignore all of these instructions, at least do this: marry the freakin’ pasta with the sauce. It will make the biggest difference.
The starch and salt in the boiling pasta water helps the sauce cling to the noodles, making it thicker and much more creamy in texture. As you can probably tell by now, there’s a lot of science behind making good spaghetti. All my years of carelessly pouring jars of tomato sauce over my pasta now felt like deeply regrettable food crimes. “I didn’t knoooowww,” I thought to myself as I watched it all come together. A single tear of penitence completes the marrying process.
I topped the end result with some grated Parmesan cheese and julienned some basil, which was another technique I had to Google and understand via another food analogy (hint: chop the basil length-wiseso that they look like matchsticks.)
This spaghetti kicks my fifth-grade spaghetti’s ass so hard. It’s got a slight zest at first bite and chunky tomato sauce that keeps the noodles together in a tight, intimate hug. It’s the type of pasta dish you’re proud to get all over that oversized branded t-shirt that you only wear to bed.
Next thing you know, we’re in the bedroom. You’re wearing that baggy old ugly t-shirt you got from your work several years ago. Mmm, you know the one, baby… with the curry stain. Oww! (Flight of the Conchords)
Recipe: Spaghetti and Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Scott Conant and Scarpetta
- 8 plum tomatoes (and have 1/4 of a can of San Marzano canned whole or crushed tomatoes on stand-by to supplement)
- Some good olive oil
- A pinch of crushed red chili flakes and salt
- 4 big leaves of basil for the sauce, a couple of leaves julienned to top at the end
- 6 whole cloves of garlic
- 1 lb of spaghetti
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Let’s start with the sauce. Core and seed the tomatoes, dip in boiling water for 15 seconds and then shock in an ice bath to shed the peels. If using canned tomatoes, simply crush and/or seed them.
- On medium-high heat, place the tomatoes and some olive oil in a small pot and mash them with a potato masher (or other blunt mashing tool.) Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring and continuously mashing throughout.
- While that’s going on, start infusing olive oil. Place 1/4 cup olive oil in a small saucepan on low heat. Add garlic cloves, basil, and pepper flakes. Keep the temperature low to slowly infuse it for 10-20 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, then strain the oil, discarding whatever is left (or use it for something else)
- Once the tomatoes are done, add the infused oil and mix well. Aww yeah.
- Now set some water to boil (and salt heavily.) Cook the spaghetti until it’s al dente. When it’s done, take a ladle full of pasta water and add it to your tomato sauce.
- Drain the pasta and add your noodles as desired to the tomato sauce, mixing everything together very well. After a while, your sauce and noodles should be holding on to each other for dear life. For extra goodness, add a little butter.
- Grate some cheese and add your julienned basil. Enjoy and get it all over your favorite shirt.