“It is fascinating to travel around Italy and realize just how many different ways they make spaghetti.” – Mario Bartoli.
My version: probably a drop in the fathomless ocean of Italian recipes. Centuries ago, in 1839, the Duke of Buonvicino wrote out the first recipe for a tomato based pasta. Centuries later, this tradition is followed by every Michelen Star Chef, amateur cook and even kids, albeit each with their own distinct version. Find it at the best Italian restaurant in the world, on the street of Naples or in a school cafeteria, you can never go wrong with tomato spaghetti. The images conjured up by Spaghetti and Meatballs are of our first introduction to romance: Lady and the Tramp. But the inspiration behind entering the kitchen to cook up this Italian rustic fare is the aroma of the tomatoes cooking with garlic and fresh chillies. It transports me to the famous Piazza Della Signoria in the heart of Florence, on a hot, balmy summer afternoon. Food, drink and siesta: the joys of a summer in Italy.
The key to cooking is always adapt the recipe to your own needs and desires, add and subtract ingredients depending on the flavors you are looking for. Each recipe should be a silhouette of yourself. Similarly, to get the best flavors, always try and use fresh ingredients. For example, many people like to use tomato paste but for a full-bodied flavor incorporate fresh, juicy tomatoes. Supermarkets are lined with different types of spaghetti, it is always best to pick the one which is made from Durum wheat, in minutes you will be able to tell the difference. Rather than cooking my chicken with the tomato sauce, I prefer to marinate it and then pan-fry it before serving. It adds the extra oomph factor to your dish as well as provides and array of flavors for your palate. You can either use my paprika mixture or the Spicy Chipotle Rub by Williams Sonoma, it is great and full of flavor for marinades and barbecues, spicy and smoky.
For the Tomato Sauce:
- 3 large, ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 6 pieces of garlic, chopped
- 1 onion, diced
- 4-5 red chillies, thinly sliced
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- 1 tsp black pepper
- Basil leaves
- 2 tsp sugar
- Dollop of chilli garlic sauce (optional)
For the Tomato Sauce:
- Pre-heat oven to about 375f and roast the tomatoes for about 25 minutes to till the skin begins to blister
- Transfer them into an airtight container for about 10 minutes till the skin loosens
- In the meantime, add oil into a pan along with the chillies, onions and garlic. Make sure to put all these ingredients at the same time, as it helps in cooking through evenly, without burning any one ingredient
- Stirring frequently, cook on medium heat till the onions and garlic turn golden brown and the chillies become pale
- Take the pan off the heat immediately and let it cool for about 3-4 minutes
- Peel the skin off the tomatoes and chop them roughly
- Add them to the onion mixture and put the pan back on medium heat
- Cover with a lid and let the tomatoes cook for about 10 minutes, stirring at regular intervals
- When the tomatoes have softened completely, reduce the heat and add the salt, black pepper, red chilli powder, basil leaves and sugar
- Stir to break down the tomatoes to form a paste
- Depending on how runny or chunky you want it, you can add a little bit of water
- Once you have the desired consistency, turn off the heat and cover with a lid
- If you want to add some spice to the paste, add a dollop of chilli garlic sauce and mix thoroughly.
For the Smoked Paprika Chicken:
- 3 pieces of chicken breast
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp lime juice
- Olive oil
For the Smoked Chicken:
- Score the chicken diagonally and rub with olive oil and lime juice
- In a separate cup, mix all the spices together thoroughly
- Coat the chicken with the spice mixture, making sure no part is left empty. Try and use up the entire mixture
- Refrigerate till ready to use (keep the chicken marinated for at least an hour)
- Glaze a non-stick pan with olive oil (use very little) and put it on medium heat
- Pan-fry the chicken, for about 2-3 minutes on each side till brown. Cover with a lid to give the chicken a smoky flavor. (Keep checking to prevent the chicken from burning)
- Once cooked, place the chicken on a kitchen towel to soak up the excess oil
- Slice the chicken before serving
For the Spaghetti:
- 150 gm durum wheat spaghetti
For the Spaghetti:
- Fill half a medium sized sauce pan with water and let it boil
- Add a pinch of salt to the boiling water
- Place the spaghetti in the boiling water and let it cook for about 5 minutes. Check to see if al-dente (soft but still with some texture). If so, then your spaghetti is cooked. Make sure not too over cook it otherwise it will get mushy
- Drain the spaghetti through a sieve and place it under cold running water. This helps the spaghetti from not sticking together and gives it a glossy finish.
All that is left now is to plate up. Fork your spaghetti in the center of your plate, make a well in the middle and pour the tomato sauce. Finally place the sliced chicken pieces over the spaghetti and garnish with basil or coriander leaves.
The charred flavor of the tomato sauce complements the smoky paprika taste of the chicken. An earthy taste is sure to come through with every bite. A simple dish that can be cooked quickly for a weeknight supper or even a weekend fete. With just a few tweaks you too can transform this simple dish into a gourmet meal.
Did you know: The world record for largest bowl of spaghetti was set in March 2009 and reset in March 2010 when a Buca di Beppo restaurant in Garden Grove, California, successfully filled a swimming pool with more than 13,780 pounds (6,251 kg) of pasta. – Courtesy Wikipedia.