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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Cremina di Caffè (Cream of Coffee)

The cremina is a Neapolitan recipe that has spread throughout Italy. This fragrant and silky cream, made of sugar and the first drops of coffee, is commonly added to espresso to cut the bitterness and adds a delicious velvety texture. The secret is to use only the first drops of coffee that flows out into your Moka pot, as it is the thickest, most flavourful bit of the liquid.

Equipment

Time

5 minutes of preparing coffee,
1 minute of making cremina

Ingredients

This recipe was prepared for 2 persons.

  • 6 teaspoons of fine white sugar
  • Ground coffee powder to taste

I. The Moka

  1. Prepare the Moka pot:
    • Fill the bottom chamber of the moka pot with cold tap water up to the fill line or below the valve.
    • Place the funnel filter into the bottom chamber. With a tespoon, fill it with ground coffee.
    • Screw the top chamber onto the bottom chamber.
Fill cold tap water up to the fill line / below the valve
The amount of ground coffee powder depends on your preference
  1. Place the Moka pot on the stove on a low flame.

II. The cremina

  1. While the pot is heating on the stove, fill a tall glass with 6 teaspoons of sugar.

    The amount of sugar =
    (No. of persons + 1) x 2 teaspoons.
    Hence, for two persons, the amount of sugar = (2+1) x 2 = 6 teaspoons.
  1. Open the lid of the Moka pot and wait. Add 3 teaspoons of the first drops of coffee into the glass of sugar as soon as they flow out into the top chamber. Return the Moka pot to the stovetop to finish making the coffee.

    The amount of first drops of coffee =
    (No. of persons + 1) teaspoons.
    Hence, for two persons, the amount of first drops of coffee = 2 + 1 = 3 teaspoons.
  1. Whisk the mixture of sugar and coffee in the glass until it becomes creamy. The cremina is ready.

III. The coffee

  1. Wait for a boiling sound in your Moka pot, which indicates that the coffee is done. Switch off the flame.
  1. With a teaspoon, stir the coffee in the Moka pot and pour into 2 small cups. Add 1 full teaspoon of cremina into each cup, stir and serve while the coffee is still hot.

If you are feeling adventurous, add a splash of grappa or other liquor to make a “caffè corretto” or “corrected coffee”.

Pantry Notes

Where we bought our ingredients in Singapore:

  • Ground coffee powder (Lavazza Qualità Rossa) – Cold Storage.
    Any ground coffee powder works, of course.

Moka Pot

The Moka pot was invented by a Turin engineer called Bialetti in the 1930s. Bialetti is still the best brand for Moka pots today. A few important points to note:-

  • The first 3-4 batches of coffee made in a new Moka pot are to be thrown away, they are going to taste bad as the pot is not yet “seasoned”.
  • Do not wash the Moka pot with soap. Wash it only with warm water. The metal of a good Moka pot absorbs and retains flavour, and you want it to retain coffee flavour (and certainly not soap flavour).

Whisking

My grandmother did not have an electric whisk, and she would whisk using just the teaspoon.

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Pasta, Patate e Cozze

Pasta, Potatoes & Mussels

Rustic Italian meal of Naples of pasta, potatoes, mussels and a dash of tomato. This dish brought me back to the beautiful sea and coast of the Mediterranean.

Pasta, Potatoes and Mussels
Pasta, Patate e Cozze

Time

10 mins of preparation,
30-40 mins of cooking.

Ingredients

This recipe was prepared for a dinner of 2 persons.

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 peeled tomatoes (from a can of peeled tomatoes / pelati)
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and sliced into thick chunks
  • 3 bags of 454g frozen mussels whole, unthawed
  • 2 small slices of pecorino cheese
  • 150g of gomiti pasta (or any other rustic “bronze-drawn” pasta can be used)
  • additional pecorino cheese

    Optional
  • a handful of basil leaves
  • ground black pepper

I. Steam the mussels

  1. Add olive oil, 2 cloves of garlic and frozen mussels into a pot. Heat on low flame with the pot covered, for 20 minutes or until the frozen water has melted and become warm.
    The frozen mussels must be “fresh out of the freezer” when you do this.
Steaming mussels

II. Prepare the sauce

  1. While the mussels are steaming, in a separate pot, heat olive oil and 2 cloves of garlic until golden.
  2. Add peeled tomatoes. Crush with the spatula and stir to cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Add potatoes and allow to cook for 2 minutes, to absorb the oil.
  4. Add hot water to cover the potatoes.
  5. Add 2 thick slices of pecorino. Cover the pot and allow to simmer on low flame for 10-15 minutes.
Potato, tomato, pecorino sauce

III. Strain and clean the mussels

  1. While the sauce is simmering, check that the mussels are steamed. Strain the water into a bowl to get rid of impurities. This water of the mussels will be used for the sauce.
  2. Remove the shells of the mussels.
Strained water of mussels
Strained water of the mussels
Peeled mussels
Peeled mussels

IV. Complete the dish

  1. After the potatoes have cooked and become soft, add the strained water of the mussels into the sauce pot.
  2. Add pasta into the sauce pot. If needed, add more water.
  3. Bring the pot to a boil on medium-high flame, stirring until the pasta is almost cooked. For this recipe, cook the pasta 2 minutes before it is al dente, as it will continue to cook in the sauce as it rests.
  4. Switch off the flame, add the mussels, and cover the pot. Leave to rest for 5 minutes.
  5. After 5 minutes, add grated pecorino to taste and a bit of olive oil. Stir well.
  6. Add basil and ground black pepper to taste.

Pantry Notes

Where we bought our ingredients in Singapore:

  • Frozen mussels (Pier 33 Gourmet Fully Cooked Mussels All Natural, 454g per packet) – Foodies Market or Fairprice
  • Peeled tomatoes / pelati (La Corvinia, 400g) – Foodies Market

Bronze-Drawn Pasta

“Bronze-Drawn” or trafilata al bronzo refers to the way the pasta is processed, which produces a rough texture which releases more starch when it cooks and absorbs more of the sauce it is mixed with.

Peeled Tomatoes

A can usually contains 4-5 tomatoes, so you will not be using the whole can. Store the rest in the fridge.

Alternatively, Fresh Mussels

If using fresh mussels, cook for only 2-3 minutes (with the pot covered) until the shells open up. Shells that do not open up are dead and should be discarded.

Basil

As basil leaves in Singapore are relatively expensive and irregular in supply at the supermarkets, we have been growing our own for the past 3 years. We grew them from seeds, in sand, with 2-weekly goat manure (from Tiong Bahru Market), and semi-shaded along our corridor.

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