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Spaghetti: Step-by-Step to Greatness in Pasta

Updated on October 24, 2020
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Lee has a degree in philosophy, but when cooking, Lee is more like an experimental scientist than an abstract thinker. Loves new ideas.

Dig in!

"Spaghetti" is used here in the generic American sense as a stand-in for any type of pasta. And here also the word generally refers to the meal itself which is set before the hungry diner, not just to the particular type of noodle.

But if you would rather call this "Italian tomato sauce - step-by-step to greatness, then " go ahead!" The greatness is there whatever we call it.

Although the noodle originates in the Old World, in China , and the tomato is from the New World, South America in particular, the marriage of the two seems preordained by some beneficent deity. It takes a bit of knowledge, though, to make this marriage work to its full potential, and that is what we are trying to impart here.

This is a big basic sauce bursting with great flavor, yet simple to make and capable of great variation with great additions suggested below. Start with the basics, treat them with an eye on their potential, combine them in proper proportions -- and BOOM!

This big basic sauce can cover all the many different types of long noodles, plus things like rigatoni, penne lisce, penne rigate, mostaccioli, pennoni, ziti, zitoni, cavatappi, fusilli, gomito, trenne, tortiglioni, farfalle, conchiglioni, rotelle, orecchiette, radiatori -- there is no end to this list.

But let's get back to basics and start making the sauce, step-by-step. Just looking at this picture has made me hungry.



Serves four. Prep time: 1 3/4 hours

* garlic, smashed

* extra virgin olive oil

* scallions

* two large cans of tomatoes (with basil and salt added)

* some red wine (optional)

* basil and rosemary

* a couple of dried red chili peppers or flakes (optional)

* capers

* black pepper, freshly ground from a mill

* pasta of your choice

An enameled cast iron Dutch (or French) Oven (aka a casserole), or any large pot.

Step 1 Garlic

Smash the garlic cloves, using the broad side of a broad knife or cleaver -- and your fist. Discard the skins. Chop the smashed pieces.

There's something about the cells of the garlic which need to be crushed in order to maximize flavor. You can use a crusher, but smashing them is simpler.

Step 2 EVOO & scallions

Dice the scallions as well and add garlic and onion to the pot, along with the extra virgin olive oil. Simmer until soft.

Use a good EVOO.

Step 3 Tomatoes

Open and add the canned tomatoes.

Step 4 Herbs

Add basil and rosemary.

Step 5 Red Wine

Add the wine, an ounce or two.

Step 6 Peppers

Add the dried red chili peppers.

Step 7 Capers

Add the capers.

Step 8 Simmer

Simmer (covered) on a fairly low flame for 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes.

After about an hour start boiling the water for the pasta and then proceed to coordinate its cooking with that of the sauce.

Step 9 Pasta and Sauce

Drain cooked pasta and combine pasta and sauce on a plate.

Dig in!
Dig in!

Step 10 Parmesan

Add parmesan.

-- Dig in!

Variations and additions

Cooking the tomato sauce separately from the meat enables the sauce to be stored for longer periods and reused. But if that is not a factor, meats can be combined with the sauce and simmered together, if you so desire.

* Ground beef, garlic, onions, herbs, salt and pepper in a frying pan - fry, stirring often. Combine with sauce and pasta on the plate.

* Grill Italian sausages and combine with sauce and pasta on the plate.

* Cook stewing meat with the garlic, onions, herbs, salt and pepper -- plus some beef or vegetable stock and red wine -- for a very long time in a separate pan. Meat should fall apart when touched with a fork. Combine with sauce and pasta on the plate.

* Add artichokes or pitted black olives (but not those terrible, tasteless canned ones!) to the sauce.


The advantage of an enameled Dutch oven is that sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for long periods, right in the Dutch oven itself, then taken out and reheated. No need to wash and rewash storage containers. (You can also double the recipe shown here if you want or need a lot of sauce for a longer period). When coming to the end of your sauce, make your next batch utilizing some of the remaining sauce; the old enriches the new.

Parting facts

Just over 300 types of pasta are recognized, under a variety of names -- more that 1300 names documented, in fact. Westerners have traced modern pasta back to the year 1154 -- way, way back, in other words -- to Sicily. The word "pasta" as we use it, however, only goes back to 1874. Marco Polo apparently described a type of lasagne noodle, but one historian has traced the idea that he brought noodles from China to Europe to a 1920 advertisement for a Canadian spaghetti maker.

Dried pasta cooked in boiling water is what most of us eat, of course, but freshly made pasta is also highly regarded, if you have the equipment to do this yourself or if are lucky enough to have a pasta shop nearby. Only two things are needed to make pasta dough: semolina flour and water.

Italy is small, but it is still the world's largest producer of pasta, 3.2m tons (or tonnes, as you please). The US is second at 3.0.

Real meal

Real Meal. Unlike fancy food mags, where images are hyped and food itself is secondary, all pix shown here are from a real meal, prepared and eaten by me and my friends. No throwing anything away till perfection is achieved. This is the real deal --- a Real Meal.


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