Home / Essays / 2015 / May / S01E03 The one with the spaghetti

S01E03 The one with the spaghetti

It's actually the same episode, it's what they ate instead of the lasagna that Rachel lost her ring in. I love Friends and everything about it, so what I'm about to say might sound blasphemous. I apologise for ruining any dreams. But I have to put it out there, that plate of spaghetti is one of the most unappetising things in spaghetti history. Thank God that the food did get better-looking, otherwise I would have been inclined to think that Monica is a crappy chef. Bashing over. Had to be said. Back to the love.

Me and spaghetti go way back, had a fiery romance when we first met, went through that staying-up-all-night phase and now, after years and years we're committed to each other. The flame has softened but the love is deeper. We are very loyal to one another. I must confess I have been so stuck in trying many “complicated” pasta dishes that I forgot about the beauty of a simple tomato sauce spaghetti. This hit the spot nicely.

It was a rainy day in Dublin town which is not at all surprising, but I did do that stupid thing people do, and hoped for better food photography weather. Instead it was a great day to listen to Billie Holiday, drink and smoke and watch the rain. Play it once, Billie. For old time's sake.

Imagine this: a seedy dive-bar, faces obscured by smoke, thoughts obscured by drink. All of this in black and white, my house transformed in a smoky club filled with romantically tormented hearts, embracing their blues. Looking through my imaginary room at my imaginary guests, filled with imaginary sorrows, I thought this group could use something. As Nina Simone was singing “I need some sugar in my bowl” (yup, she was there), I saw the hungry look in Hemingway's eyes, the longing on Virginia Wolf's face, the dark thoughts in Sylvia Plath's head and I decided I'd better get cooking.

I put my polka-dot parka on and headed to the Italian place for some fresh spaghetti and some flavourful tomatoes. This crowd deserves the best, wouldn't want Tom Waits to be disappointed.

While my fantasy world was blooming, reality needed a little bit of help. I get my ingredients out and start playing with the camera. I couldn't wait to try some of the camera things I'd researched in the last week. You know that saying “check yourself before you wreck yourself”? Yeah, that would have been great advice! Because as I was just getting into the groove, my camera shuts down. I couldn't believe it! I immediately went to that weird place when you're laughing out laud but kinda crying at the same time, so the result is quite frightening. In order to keep up the “I'm handling this just fine” lie, I start making stupid jokes about it. Stuff like: my battery is so low, I'm gonna trip on it! My battery is so low it can't get up. Get up, you fat fuck! Get uuuuup! Voice of reason: He's dead, Jim. So is the funny bone, give it up.

I know what you're gonna say. “You need to have another set of batteries and have them recharged and ready for this type of situation.” I do! I did! They didn't work either, they were broken for some reason and didn't even have the courtesy to let me know! A reality check would have been very smart of me, and as you can see, quite necessary. But since time travel is not an option for me, I had to just deal with it. I went through with it despite all the obvious signs that I should try another day. Cause I'm a fearless rebel, that's why! Or a delusional fool! Anyhow, this is what came out of it. Photos courtesy of my knight in shinning armour – The phone camera.

1.Ingredients and quantities

  • 1 small onion/ half of a big one
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tiny chilli pepper
  • 2 normal sized tomatoes
  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
  • basil leaves-to your heart's desire
  • olive oil- "some not a lot"
  • 280 gr. of spaghetti
  • salt and pepper

2. The Process

Finely chop the onion. Put your pan on the stove. Low heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Then add your onions.

Let them soften for about 5 min. Then add your garlic and chilli and let them get soft too. Be careful not to overdue it. Soft and golden, not brown.

Now is a good time to chop your tomatoes. I like them more on the chunky, uneven side, because you get different levels of taste and get a piece a tomato in your mouth once in a while. Don't know about you, but I find that exciting.

Get your pasta water ready. The rule is 1 l of water for each 100 gr. of pasta. Salt the water. It's really important, otherwise the pasta will be bland and your sauce will have to work extra hard. Also, the end result will never be as good. Don't be afraid of the extra salt here, it's mostly going down the drain. Put the pot on the stove on medium heat. Don't add the pasta yet! Go back to the sauce pan.Next, add your tomatoes. Put a lid on and check up on it in about 5 min.

When the tomatoes get softer and you see they have started to release their wonderful juices, add the ½ teaspoon of sugar (that will help quiet down the acidity of the tomatoes ;-) lightly season, put the lid on and get everything back on the stove.

Meanwhile, the pasta for your water should start to heat up nicely. Once the sauce becomes too thick and wants to stick to the pan, I add half a ladle of water or so. Use your instincts here, work with what you have. Put the lid back on the pan and the pan back on the stove. 

At this point in time, your water should be bubbling in expectation of your spaghetti. So do the right thing and unite the two. Translation: add the spaghetti to the boiling water. Turn the heat down a bit. Leave them for as long as the instruction on the package say. Mine were fresh so they only needed about 3 min. To make sure that they are the way you like them, just taste them. Keep in mind that they will be tossed in the pan with the sauce, so that's another 2-3 min of heat there too. 

Back to the sauce. When it looks like this, it's ready for the basil. Add a generous amount but don't go overboard, we want to feel other flavours too. Add a bit of olive oil (if needed) and put it back on the stove.

After about 2-3 min, it will look like this and be ready for that spaghetti.

When the spaghetti is ready, use some tongs to scoop them out of the water and into the pan. Three important things:

  • The pan needs to be hot and on the stove, sauce bubbling slightly. 
  • I have a good reason to scoop the pasta with the tongs instead of draining it: that water will help your sauce. It has pasta starch in there, it will thicken and loosen your sauce at the same time. Plus it's salted, so it's not bland. 
  • Keep that pan moving! Don't let the pasta sit in there, wiggle them around until everything is nice and saucy on every little piece of spaghetti.

Done. Put it on a plate, eat straight from the pan, it doesn't matter. Just don't forget the Parmesan cheese, you don't want to anger the Gods of Pasta! I had mine with a side salad and mozzarella cheese. I ripped it in half and drizzled olive oil all-over it, because I just love the combination. And because visually it's stunning. That white, milky ball of cheese, with the nectar of the gods dripping that glorious green-yellow colour that no one can define! Sorry, I got carried away. Can't help it, I'm a sucker for chromatic perfection. 

That's all folks! Until the next one, happy eating!