Hankering for a bowl of spaghetti in tomato sauce that tastes like the one you had at that one place? You know, that nice Italian joint down the street owned and operated by that one Italian family. That place where, upon arrival, your senses become pleasantly overwhelmed with smells of garlic, basil, tomato and Parmesan upon other wondrous things.
Like myself, perhaps you boiled up some noodles, drained them and then placed them in a bowl. Then proceeded to ladle on some store-bought “spaghetti” sauce on top, anticipating Handel’s Messiah to start playing in the background. You finally sprinkle some cheese on it and take a bite. The Rage. The utter contempt. HOW DARE YOU?
No amount of cheese is going to help this dish taste like that authentic bowl of pasta you were looking forward to having. But there is hope.
Here’s a recipe that will allow you to stick to your food budget without sacrificing quality and value.
(Step 1) Into a preheated sauce pan, pour two tablespoons of olive oil and half a large yellow onion diced up small. Allow the onion to cook at a medium temperature until it starts becoming golden brown.
Caramelizing the onion will add flavor, but more importantly, it will also help to sweeten the tomato sauce naturally without having to put any sugar in it (store-bought tomato sauce not only has a lot of preservatives, but also contains a lot of sweeteners).
(Step 2) Into the pan with onions, add a teaspoon of fennel seed, one bay leaf and a pinch of chili flake.
Add minced fresh garlic when the onions look like they are almost done browning.
(Step 3) Pour the contents of the 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomato purée into the onion mixture. Fill that can three quarters full with tap water and add to the pot.
(Step 4) Allow the sauce to gently simmer. Add two teaspoons of dried oregano. Continue to cook the sauce for another 10 minutes or until the consistency resembles that of a sauce.
Season it with a teaspoon of a non-iodized salt to your taste preference. Take sauce off the burner and place off to the side.
(Step 5) Place a large sauté pan onto a burner set to medium-low.
Place a large pot filled with water two inches from the top onto another burner on high.
(Step 6) When the water starts to boil, add a tablespoon of non-iodized salt. Carefully place half a pound of thin spaghetti (half a box) into the boiling water. Immediately stir the noodles so they don’t stick to each other. Turn down the heat to medium-high.
In the sauté pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Ladle in half of the sauce you just made.
After the pasta has boiled for five minutes, transfer the pasta with a pair of tongs to the sauté pan with the sauce. Reserve the water.
From the reserved pot of water, add one cup of water to the pan with the pasta and tomato sauce mixture.
The gently simmering tomato sauce will finish cooking the pasta, allowing some of the tomato sauce to permeate into the noodles. The flour present in the pasta will thicken the sauce.
(Step 7) When the mixture has reduced down to a consistency resembling pasta sauce, carefully take a noodle out and taste it. If it needs a little bit more time cooking, ladle a little bit of water from your reserved pasta water and allow it to cook until you are satisfied with the texture of the pasta. Ladle in more water as needed.
It should be al dente (translation: to the tooth). Al dente simply means that there should be a little bit of resistance when biting into it rather than a crunch if underdone or no resistance if overdone.
(Step 8) Add torn fresh basil leaves to the hot pasta in the pan. Gently mix and plate.
Top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano.
Ingredients you’ll need on hand: A quality 28 oz can of tomato purée (preferably San Marzano), a large yellow onion, garlic, fennel seed, bay leaf, fresh basil, dried oregano, your choice of dried pasta (i.e. thin spaghetti), olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and chili flakes.
Step 1: Caramelize onion in olive oil.
Step 2: Add chili flakes, bay leaf and fresh garlic.
Step 3: Add tomato purée.
Step 4: Flavor sauce with oregano.
Step 5: Place a large pot of water onto burner set to high and a large sauté pan set to medium-low.
Step 6: Add salt to the large pot of water. Boil noodles. Heat up sauce. Combine.
Step 7: Allow the pasta to cook in the tomato sauce.
Step 8: Finish the dish with fresh basil and aged Parmesan cheese.