For the last few weeks my husband and I have been watching reruns of “The Sopranos” before bed. Aside from focusing on the lives of Italian mobsters in New Jersey, it also highlights the traditional way of life. In short; the whole series revolves around food. A medley of pastas, including Manicottis, Rigatonis, Spaghetti Carbonaras, Salami and of course the Cannolis. The most popular word in the series, aside from the swearing, is ‘al-dente’. It is no wonder that we dream about Italian food all night and wake up with a severe craving.
The essence of Italian cuisine is in its simplicity. Chefs dating as far back as the 14th century emphasized on the quality of food rather than the quantity of ingredients. Hence most authentic Italian dishes would only consist of 4-5 ingredients. In fact, it was an Italian food writer, Archestratus, said that while cooking Italian food flavors should not be masked by excessive seasoning and spices. However, as time passes by these, more reliance is being placed on extra ingredients to enhance flavors. For example, many cooks worldwide use cream in their Bolognese sauce to add to its richness. But for me, that takes away from the flavors of the meat and tomatoes. Spaghetti Bolognese has been the flag bearer for Italian cuisine around the world, however to get the most out of a chunky Bolognese sauce, I prefer using Penne. It looks grander and somehow tastes better too.
- 300g minced beef (or any other meat of your choice)
- 75g penne pasta
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 4 red chillies, chopped
- 5 large ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp red chilli flakes (optional)
- 1 tsp cumin powder (optional)
- Grated cheddar cheese
- Parmesan cheese
- Loaf of french bread
- Garlic Paste
- Glaze a saucepan with olive oil and add the chopped garlic and red chillies. Saute for 3-4 minutes till the garlic starts to brown
- Add the minced beef and cook for a further 10 minutes till it browns completely. Keep stirring to make sure the meat is cooked through
- Lower the heat and add the tomatoes, spices, lime juice and sugar. Add 3 tablespoons of water and mix together. Cook, while stirring till the tomatoes become soft and pulpy
- Cover the meat and sauce with more water, close the lid and let the sauce simmer on low heat.
- Once the sauce reaches your desired consistency, switch off the heat. I prefer the sauce to be chunky as opposed to runny
- While the sauce is being cooked, add the penne pasta to a pan of hot water. Add a dash of salt and olive oil. Let the pasta boil for 3-4 minutes till al-dente
- Once cooked, drain the pasta and run it through cold water. Add another splash of olive oil and shake it in the strainer to keep the pasta from sticking to each other
- While the pasta is still hot, toss it into the sauce and add a pat of butter and grated cheddar cheese. The heat from the pasta helps the cheese to melt, giving it an added kick
- Top with shavings of parmesan cheese before serving
- For the garlic bread: Slice the loaf into 2 inch discs (do not slice is completely to separate the slices from the loaf, just enough to spread the toppings. This helps in keeping the loaf intact while baking)
- Spread garlic paste and butter onto each disc. Place the loaf onto a sheet of aluminum foil and wrap tightly
- Put the loaf onto a baking tray and bake for about 20 minutes
- Once the loaf is done, let it cool and finally slice the bread completely to separate all the pieces
A plate of Penne Bolognese with garlic bread was sufficient to quell our craving for Italian food. The flavors emanating from each bite were due to fresh ingredients, using tomatoes instead of canned tomato paste. The reason I chose penne over spaghetti is because the sheer size of the spaghetti tends to overpower the sauce, while small bites of penne with a meaty Bolognese sauce helps you to enjoy all the flavors. While making this recipe, it is always recommended to make it in larger quantities, there is nothing like sneaking into the kitchen past midnight to dig into some cold pasta.