Basic: Tomato Sauce for Spaghetti

We had the pleasure to teach a dear friend who was starting to cook. We started with a basic recipe – spaghetti with tomato sauce, garlic and cheese. Your pasta should come out creamy – simple and delicious! Everyone at the table (including my lovely but picky wife) took a second serving so we took that as a success. 😉

This recipe is common all over Italy, of course. It originated however in Naples in the 1700s.

Time

20 minutes

Ingredients

This recipe was prepared for 4 persons.

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 cans of peeled tomatoes
  • 500g of spaghetti (bronze pulled)
  • 100g pecorino cheese
  • basil leaves (optional)
  • salt (to taste)
  • coarse salt for pasta pot

  1. Pour the canned tomatoes into a bowl. Pinch off and remove the hard tips of peeled tomatoes.
  1. On a medium-low flame, add a generous amount of olive oil in a pan. Start to boil a pot of water on a separate stove.
  1. Cut off the base of garlic cloves, and cut them into halves. Add to the pan and leave to cook for 1-2 minutes (still on low-medium flame) so that they release their flavours into the oil.
  1. Add tomato sauce, allow it to warm (still on low-medium flame). Add salt to taste. Stir occasionally. Remember that you will be adding cheese at the end which will add to the final dish’s saltiness.

    At this point, the sauce should remain “wet” and not thickening or drying up. There will be some bubbling of the sauce but not too much.

    If you have basil leaves, you may add them to add a layer of sweet notes.
  1. While the sauce is warming, grate the pecorino cheese. We grated about a quarter of a wedge, which filled half a medium-sized bowl.
  1. When the pot of water boils, add 2 handfuls of salt (preferably coarse salt). Add the spaghetti. Set a timer to the time indicated on the packaging minus 2 minutes. Your pasta will finish cooking in the pan with the sauce later on, so that it exudes its starch to add creaminess to the sauce.

    It may seem like a lot of salt but do not worry. You need it to season the pasta. Most of that salt is going to remain in the big pot of water.
  1. After the timer rings, use a pasta ladle to transfer your spaghetti to the pan. With a ladle, add “starchy” water (a little at a time) from the pot where the pasta was cooked in if the sauce is not “wet” enough. When you move your spatula along the side of the pan, you should see a layer of liquid over the tomato sauce.
  1. After 2 minutes, check that the sauce is “wet”. This is to make sure that there is sufficient water in the sauce to mix with the cheese.
  1. Switch the flame off and allow the pan to cool slightly for a few minutes. Add the grated pecorino cheese, distributing it over the surface of the pan.
  1. Start working the cheese into the spaghetti by stirring from the top to allow the cheese to melt, before mixing it thoroughly. Once mixed, you are ready to serve!

Pantry Notes

Where we bought our ingredients in Singapore:

  • Canned peel tomatoes (La Corvinia, 400g net weight per can) – Foodies Market. Alternatively, buy canned tomatoes which are made either in (SA) Salerno or (CA) Cagliari, Sardinia.
  • Pecorino cheese – Foodies Market or Cold Storage
  • Coarse salt (Morton coarse kosher salt) – Cold Storage
  • Spaghetti (Academia Barilla, 500g) – Cold Storage

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Roasted Sweet Peppers (in Olive Oil & Garlic)

An absolute favourite all over the Mediterranean. The sweet peppers can be eaten on their own, or with bread. Dipping the bread into the extra virgin olive oil infused with garlic and roasted sweet peppers is a magical experience of its own. This vegan recipe is a bit laborious but is definitely worth it!

Time

1 minute of preparation,
20 minutes of roasting,
1 hour of waiting to cool,
15 minutes of peeling,
overnight of resting

Ingredients

This recipe was prepared for 2 persons.

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1kg red sweet pepper
  • 4-5 garlic cloves
  • salt to taste

I. Roast

  1. Pre-heat the oven at 240°C or 460F.
  1. Line a tray with baking sheet and arrange the whole peppers. Roast for 10 minutes until the skin blisters.
  1. With a protective glove, open the oven door and turn the peppers to the uncooked side. Roast for another 10 minutes until the skin shrivels and blisters.

II. Cool to room temperature

  1. Remove the tray from the oven and pour the peppers into a bowl along with any exuded liquid. Cover the bowl with a cling wrap and allow to cool to room temperature for about 1 hour. Leave the baking sheet on the tray, to be used as a surface for cleaning the peppers later on.

III. Clean and infuse

  1. Peel the peppers and remove all the seeds. This is the tedious part! My grandmother will leave the seeds on, but I do not like their taste.
Pinch the peppers to peel the skin
Remove the tops, and tear open the peppers.
Remove the seeds with your fingers or with a spoon.
  1. Tear the peppers into smaller strips and put in a sealable container.
  1. To the container, add and mix thoroughly:
    • Crushed garlic cloves
    • Salt
    • Juice left in the bowl used to cool the peppers. This liquid is packed with flavours from the peppers.
    • Generous amount of olive oil until all the peppers are covered.
  1. Seal the container and allow to rest in the fridge for 1-2 days.
  1. Before serving, remove from the fridge a few hours before to “warm” to room temperature.

We served ours as fillings for homemade pita bread.

Pantry Notes

Where we bought our ingredients in Singapore:

  • Peppers – Blu Kouzina

Red sweet pepper

The sweet pepper we commonly use in the South of Italy is not the bell pepper. It has a long shape, but is not at all spicy and is much bigger in size than peperoncini (hot chilli peppers). We found that at supermarkets in Singapore, the sweet peppers are referred to as “Palermo peppers”. Despite this name the sweet peppers are truly common all over the Mediterranean, not just in Sicily. We also used these peppers to make Calabrian “Sticky” Potatoes.

Removing the seeds

An easy way to remove the seeds is by halving the peppers and removing the seeds before roasting in the oven. However, I think that this way the peppers lose too much liquid and flavour.

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Calabria “Sticky” Pan-Fried Potatoes (with Onions & Sweet Peppers)

In Calabria, this vegan dish is called patane mpacchiuse, literally “sticky potatoes” referring to the potatoes made to “stick” at the bottom of the pan as flavours from the onions seep in from the top. Traditionally made with just onions, it is now common to see a red pepper or two being added (By “red pepper”, I refer to the long sweet pepper). The potato slices of this dish will have absorbed the beautiful flavours and fragrances of the olive oil, onions and peppers. Bits of the potatoes also have a most delightful crunch when you bite into them. Ah…

In the neighbouring Basilicata, instead of onions, only red peppers are used to flavour the potatoes. This Basilicata version is more common in the village where I come from. Unfortunately, I find peppers harder to digest as I get older.

Time

5 minutes of preparation
35 minutes of cooking

Ingredients

This recipe was prepared for 2 persons.

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 potatoes
  • 1 big red onion
  • 1 red sweet pepper
  • salt to taste

I. Prepare the ingredients

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into thin slices.
  2. Cut the red onion into thin slices.
  3. Cut the red sweet pepper length-wise and remove the seeds.

II. Pan fry

  1. Add olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Heat the oil on the lowest flame. Arrange the ingredients in the following order:
    • Bottom: potato slices, and sprinkle salt on them immediately
    • Middle: red peppers
    • Top: onion slices
  1. Increase the flame to medium, drizzle a generous amount of olive oil, sprinkle some salt, and allow to cook for 5-10 minutes uncovered.
  1. Cover the pan and allow to cook covered for 20 minutes on the lowest flame. Every 10 minutes or so, lightly shake the pan sideways to prevent the potatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  1. After 20 minutes, toss the ingredients with a spatula. Cover the pan again and allow to cook for another 10 minutes.
  1. After 10 minutes, open the cover and increase the flame to high. Allow to cook uncovered for another 5 minutes, tossing lightly every now and then.
  1. Pour onto a dish and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Pantry Notes

Where we bought our ingredients in Singapore:

  • Potatoes, onion and peppers – Blu Kouzina

A simple recipe like this absolutely depends on the quality of the ingredients, so use the freshest ones you can find. My wife, for example, did not like potatoes as she found them rather bland, until she realised that good potatoes are actually full of flavour!

Red sweet pepper

The sweet pepper we commonly use in the South of Italy is not the bell pepper. It has a long shape, but is not at all spicy and is much bigger in size than peperoncini (hot chilli peppers). We found that at supermarkets in Singapore, the sweet peppers are referred to as “Palermo peppers”. Despite this name the sweet peppers are truly common all over the Mediterranean, not just in Sicily. We also used these peppers to make roasted peppers infused in olive oil and garlic.

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Cime di Rape con Salsiccia (Chye Sim/Broccoli Rabe with Sausages)

A typical ingredient of the South of Italy, “cime di rape (read: ra-peh)” is a cousin of the chinese vegetable “chye sim”, with similar flavours, perhaps more bitter than the latter. I was very glad to find it at the local markets, as it is one of my favourites. It can be eaten on its own as a side to the main courses or with bread, or to season pasta. For this recipe, we are preparing it as a side.

Chye Sim
Rapa (singular)
Rape (plural)

Watch the video to see how we prepared the dish, and for all the important tips on this cooking technique.

Time

5 minutes of preparation,
5 minutes of cooking,
20-40 minutes of simmering.

Simmering time greatly varies depending on the toughness of the chye sim you have.

Ingredients

This recipe was prepared for a dinner of 4 persons.

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1kg (6 packets) of chye sim
  • 800g sausage
    (At room temperature. Leave out of the fridge for about 1 hour before cooking.)
    We used chorizo sausage which is similar to Southern Italian sausages which are spiced.
  • coarse salt to taste
    Be careful with the amount of salt if your sausages are already salted.

I. Clean the vegetable

  1. With your fingers, pluck the tender leafy parts of the chye sim and rinse them. Discard the tough stalks.

II. Cook the sausage

  1. In a large pan or wok and on a low flame, add a generous amount of olive oil and garlic. Wait for the oil to heat up for about 2-3 minutes.
  1. While waiting for the oil to become hot, use a fork to make holes on the sausages. The holes will help the sausages to cook more thoroughly and exude more flavours into the oil.
  1. When the oil is hot, raise the flame to medium and add the sausages one by one to cover the base of your pan. When the sausages are lightly browned on the bottom, turn them to cook the other side. If your sausages are cold, raise to a higher flame to maintain the oil temperature.

III. Cook the leaves

  1. When the sausages are lightly browned on both sides, add the leaves, sprinkle coarse salt and olive oil, and cover the pan. Lower the flame to a medium-low and leave to simmer. The leaves will cook in their own steam.
  1. After 5 minutes, stir the leaves gently. Do not disturb the sausages at the bottom.
  1. When the leaves have started to lose colour and wilted in 10-15 minutes, stir the leaves and sausages. Time may vary depending on the toughness of your chye sim. If they are quite tough, increase the flame slightly.
  1. When the leaves have lost colour and wilted, the dish is ready. Make a final adjustment to the preferred saltiness and serve warm.

We served ours with homemade pizza bianca romana (for me) and plain brown rice (for my wife).

Cime di Rape con Salsiccia (Chye Sim with Sausages)

Pantry Notes

Where we bought our ingredients in Singapore:

  • Chye sim – Tiong Bahru Market
    This is a common local vegetable which can be found in all wet markets and major supermarkets.
  • Chorizo sausage – Ryan’s Grocery next to Cold Storage at Great World City

Alternatives

Instead of sausages, you may use anchovies instead. Perhaps if you have leftover anchovies after making the Pasta, Butter and Anchovies dish.

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