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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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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Mashed Potatoes

The perfect side to accompany your meaty dishes. We served ours with Stracotto di Manzo.

mashed potatoes

Time

30-35 minutes to boil potatoes,
5 minutes to mash

Ingredients

This recipe was prepared for a dinner of 4 persons.

  • 1kg yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 250g of butter
  • heavy cream
  • salt

  1. Boil the potatoes.
  2. After the potatoes have become soft, drain the pot. Put the potatoes back into the pot.
  3. Cut butter into chunks and add them into the pot.
  4. With a masher, mash the potatoes and butter roughly.
  1. Add 3-4 tablespoons of cream and mash the mixture. Repeat until preferred texture is achieved.
  1. Add salt to taste, mix, and serve.

Pantry Notes

Where we bought our ingredients in Singapore:

  • Heavy cream – Foodies Market

Note: Heavy cream is not the same as whipping cream.

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Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta & Beans

This rustic recipe is one of my all-time favourites. All over Italy, this dish of pasta and beans is regularly served at home, with each family having its personal adaptations. As a humble dish it is not typically served at restaurants, perhaps only at trattorie, smaller diners which serve home-cooked dishes.

This recipe can be made vegetarian by skipping the skin of guanciale/pancetta, and further adjusted to vegan by using semola (non-egg) pasta. The vegan version is the most popular in the South of Italy. You may also cook this bean “soup” without pasta, but remember to allow the pot to rest for at least 0.5 to 1 hour at the end before serving.

Time

10 mins of preparation,
1.5 hours of slow cooking,
1 hour of resting

Ingredients

This recipe was prepared for a dinner of 4 persons.

  1. Peel the fresh borlotti beans from their pods.
  2. Chop carrots and celeries into big chunks, and grind in a food processor. Set aside.
  3. On medium flame, heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, sautee the chopped carrots and celeries for 5 minutes until they sweat. They “sweat” when you see the water evaporating. It is also very important that you do not add any salt at this point.
  4. Add the beans and allow to sautee for 2 minutes.
  5. Add cold water up to 3 or 4 fingers deep and cover the pot. Once the water comes to a boil, lower the flame to the lowest setting and allow to simmer for 1 hour. As the pot simmers, peel and cut your potatoes.
  6. Add the chinese cabbage and potato chunks and cook for another 0.5 hour, or until the beans are the softness of your liking.
  7. Increase the flame to medium and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and a bit of hot water if the soup is too thick until it cooks. Our maltagliati is homemade and takes only 3 minutes to cook.
  8. After your pasta has cooked, switch off the flame. Add salt to taste and allow to rest for an hour for the flavours to soak in the soup before serving.

Pantry Notes

Where we bought our ingredients in Singapore:

  • Borlotti beans – Tiong Bahru Market
  • Guanciale – Da Paolo, or Huber’s

Borlotti Beans

The fresh borlotti beans are sold at the “wet market” with their pods, which are pink. To obtain the beans, pinch off one tip and apply some pressure to the edge, and slide your fingers down to open the pod.

At the supermarket, you will also be able to find canned borlotti beans, but fresh ingredients taste the best.

I am curious how they are used in the local cuisines but unfortunately my wife is very averse to beans and legumes in general.

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Chinese Cabbage

The chinese cabbage is softer in texture and flavour. It will dissolve into the sauce.

You may also use other types of cabbage such as the round cabbage or “black” cabbage, if you prefer stronger flavours. As the leaves are tougher than the chinese cabbage, cook them earlier together with the beans, instead of adding them with the potatoes.

Maltagliati

We used maltagliati, which was the remnant pieces of the homemade Fettuccine that we stored in the freezer.

Pork Rind

We had the skin of guanciale which we trimmed off while making pasta all’Amatriciana. You may also use the skin of pancetta. This bit will add flavour to your oil base and becomes soft as it cooks.

Salt and Beans

When you cook beans or legumes (such as chickpeas and lentils), do not add any salt until the end of the cooking. Otherwise, their skin hardens up and their insides do not cook.

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