The perfect spaghetti: A keystone of fine dining that’s cheap and easy to do at home. Spaghetti, as the modern American knows it, also known as Spaghetti alla Bolognese, was invented outside of Italy, despite popular belief. It’s a dish that should be in the arsenal of all home cooks as it is not only cheap and relatively non-time-consuming, but it can be made with few ingredients and still shine.
A quality spaghetti begins with the tomatoes. One might think that a truly good tomato sauce requires fresh tomatoes, but this is not so. When tomatoes are out of season, the ones from your grocery store likely traveled miles in a refrigerated truck; refrigerated tomatoes are never optimal. Aside
from sugar content, what makes tomatoes taste good are volatile compounds like cis-3-Hexenal, which is also responsible for the small of fresh cut grass. These compounds are negatively affected by refrigeration: they break down into more stable compounds. In the case of cis-3-Hexenal, the compound it becomes has a lessened scent and taste. Refrigeration also causes breakdown of the cell walls in the tomato, creating a mealy and watery texture. Flavor can be somewhat repaired by allowing the tomato to warm to room temperature; any damage to texture is permanent. What all of this means is that when tomatoes are out of season or locally-grown tomatoes are unavailable, canned tomatoes actually have superior flavor and texture compared to the fresh ones in the supermarket. Matthew Mendoza, a home cook and food hobbyist, said, “I think canned whole San Marzano tomatoes are the best for (spaghetti).”
San Marzano tomatoes are a variety of plum tomato with thicker flesh, fewer seeds, and a stronger, bittersweet taste.
The next step of a great spaghetti sauce is the soffritto, an Italian term that refers to a mixture of aromatics and herbs, used to provide flavor. A common trio of aromatics is onion, garlic, and celery; others can be used.
These are chopped finely and sauteed in olive oil or another fat before browning your protein. Former SFCC student Garrison Rodrigues said, “Use a spicy Italian sausage, and remember to season.” Of course, you can use whatever protein you like, or none at all. After this, the pot is deglazed with some flavorful liquid.
“You use the cheapest red wine you can get…any red, as long as it’s not sweet. That would be gross,” Rodrugues said. If you don’t want to use wine, you can use the liquid from your canned tomatoes.
Herbs are often more flavorful when fresh. However, dried herbs and spices are perfectly acceptable as long as they aren’t old. Many of the oils that provide flavor degrade over time, so it’s better to keep smaller amounts on hand to use up over the course of a few months.
The exception to this is garlic.
“I have to use fresh garlic; powdered garlic just doesn’t cut it.” said Susan Blogett SFCC graduate and mother of two. Thankfully, a bulb of garlic is fairly cheap and keeps well. Make sure not to burn it, as that can impart an unpleasant bitter flavor. Pasta can be either dried from the store or homemade; choose whichever you desire. If using store-bought, follow the directions on the package, and remember to taste them to get desired done- ness. It is imperative to salt your pasta water properly.
Renowned TV chef Alton Brown said on his show Good Eats, “The pasta water should taste a little like seawater.” When your pasta is just a hint from done, drain it and finish it in your sauce. This last step increases the flavor of your pasta, because it soaks up more of the sauce while it’s hot and finishing that last bit of cooking. With these simple techniques in mind, anyone capable of using a stove or hotplate can make themselves a cheap, healthy, filling, and tasty meal.