Spaghetti Al Pomodoro

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I stopped eating fastfood when I discovered how French fries were deep-fried in oil about a month old. The fries turned out so dark and soggy and was totally disgusting despite the high temperature it was deep fried upon. And, the owner still had the guts to serve it to customers. After that experience, I stayed away from most small and even bigger hamburger joints and food chains that had served French fries on their menu and stuck with chains that I felt and knew that changed and cleaned their deep-fat fryer more frequently; or at least strained the oil every so often before re-using it for another round.

I became more aware of what I put in my mouth and specifically where they came from and from where they were bought. Despite being so tired and hungry the entire day, I would still force myself to cook something that’s nowhere fastfood style. Moreover, I had totally eliminated Pop in my beverage list. I would usually buy a liter or two during the first few years when I arrived here, but since then, had completely taken them off my grocery list. Honestly, I do feel like 21 again after giving that up, and I can catch-up with other cooks ten years younger than I am who had smoked and drank Pop daily. I couldn’t catch up with cooks that do weed though. Their endurance is just tremendous during peak hours of the day.

My typical fastfood would usually be a pasta dish of some sort, and of all my old time favourites is Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce. This spaghetti though isn’t sweet with hotdogs like Jollibee’s, my sincerest apologies folks. I’ve avoided eating hotdogs as well for personal reasons. This dish leans on the classic preparation of Spaghetti. It is really very simple, but the procedure in making the Tomato Sauce can be very time consuming if it’s done in a commercial scale. The final product also requires a combination of sautéing and simmering for hours end until the sauce reduces and thickens to the right consistency. There’s always a shortcut to doing it, but it would still require some period of time to prepare it properly. I would usually make a big batch and freeze the leftover for some other day for some other pasta dishes. I know I could still use it for many pinoy dishes like Kaldereta and Afritada and many soup dishes requiring tomato sauce or tomato substitute. It’s so versatile, and it stays good forever as long as it’s in a frozen state. Mine doesn’t last long though. I keep it in the freezer on the third day.

My beverage of choice when I prepare and eat pasta would almost always be a bottle of red wine. I should always have a bottle of cheap Italian Red with me when I start making the sauce. My definition of ‘cheap’ is a bottle under $10. Unfortunately, the liquor store here in Toronto doesn’t sell a 2 Euro bottle of wine like those found in Italy. I don’t go beyond that price, and you can call me cheap, by all means. That’s an accepted fact; maybe one of the many reasons why my ex-wife left me. Anyway, I’m quite extravagant when I’m out on a date or with my buddies, but that’s an entirely different story. I know I have to tell that soon, somehow, through another food experience, but so far, that has not occurred yet; maybe in due time. Anyway, I just can’t do away without wine when I cook pasta.

I also use a San Marzano type canned tomatoes. I noticed the big difference from regular canned plum or crushed tomatoes from this kind. It has basil infused in the can itself making it more aromatic and flavourful when simmered for a long time. As for the pasta, I would usually buy some whole wheat spaghetti, but if the regular ones are on sale, I’d take a bunch for my pantry. I would usually make my sauce a bit garlicky from the usual recipe of onions, celery and carrots, and as much as possible, not as thick as many pinoys are so used to having. As for the cheese, instead of the usual, boring grated Parmesan, I would go for a block of the following cheese: Parmigiano Reggiano, Romano, Asiago or Mozzarella. I would combine any two of the first three. However, I’d leave Mozzarella on its own. When Mozza mixes in with the pasta, the pasta dish explodes! Mozza just melts instantaneously when it’s heated up. There are some cheese stores in the Chinatown Area that sells small blocks at around $5 each and the taste is almost always far better than those found in many grocery shelves. However, due to the limited time I have had lately, I bought a ready grated container of Romano found at my nearest grocer and used that to mix into my pasta and to top off before serving.

Ingredients: Serves 1-2
1 Can San Marzano Type Tomatoes
1/3 of a box of Spaghetti
2-3 Cloves Garlic
1 stalk of Celery
1 Small Spanish Onion
Olive Oil
Fresh Oregano
Italian Parsley
Dried Basil and Rosemary
2 Bay leaves
A small block of one or two of the ff: Parmigiano Reggiano, Asiago or Romano

• Dice the onion and celery good enough for two batches: one for the sauce and the other for sautéing. Mince the garlic after (also for two batches).
• While dicing, heat two stockpots; one with olive oil for the sauce and the other with salted boiling for the pasta.

Tomato Sauce:
• In the first stockpot, sauté the onion and celery. As they soften and become aromatic, add in the garlic. Keep sautéing until everything caramelizes without burning or browning the garlic.

• Deglaze with Red wine and add the San Marzano Type Canned Tomatoes. Blend the Canned Tomatoes for faster cooking before adding in the pot. If you have the time, strain before adding into the pot.

• Add in the dried herbs and bay leaves and continue stirring.
• Pour some chicken broth and let it boil to simmer until it reduces to the right consistency. Season to taste and don’t forget to discard the bayleaves after.

• Once the water boils in the other pot, drop the pasta according to the instructions in the box.
• Pull out and set aside in a strainer. Save some of the pasta water for sautéing. If the noodles dry out, sprinkle some olive oil and mix gently. Don’t run it in cold water.

• Heat a sauté pan and start sautéing the onions, celery and garlic. Deglaze it again with the red wine, and using a ladle, scoop some of the tomato sauce into the pan until the noodles absorb the right amount of sauce. Add some of the pasta water that was set aside and continue sautéing. Squeeze some lemon juice and season to taste. Chop some Italian Parsley and add them into the pan. Add the chosen cheese and sauté a little further.

• Serve it on a plate. Garnish with the fresh herbs and grated cheese.

• Choose between Italian Parsley or Fresh Oregano when finishing the pasta. Each has its own very distinct flavours apart from each other. I chose Italian Parsley for this dish.

I just recently met someone working in Riyadh, KSA who doesn’t eat steak or lamb. I am guessing her line of work is preventing her from doing so. She’s missing so much! She does eat pork though, but pork is disallowed and forbidden in that side of the world-too bad. I really don’t know what she has been eating there if meat isn’t on her list. Anyway, I had the opportunity to chat with her the other day and she told me that her favourite dish is pasta. This might be very appropriate for her. I also had the same thing in mind after seeing several pasta dishes from the previous FTF. That also got me going and made me miss doing Tomato Sauce from scratch. It has been a long time since I made a full batch. I also had a can of San Marzano Tomatoes sitting in my cupboard for a couple of months now, and never had a chance to make the sauce since the weather has warmed up a notch a higher from the usual. And when the weather heats up, I usually go on overdrive at work. I also needed the sauce for a ‘fastfood’meal’ now that I don’t have a full day-off for the next couple of weeks.

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When I was growing up, my parents and I used to eat out and try different restaurants after celebrating the Sunday Mass. Moreover, during the course of the summer break, I had the opportunity to see some places which, when looking back, I had never realized how lucky I was as a teen to be able to travel. My family and I went to Europe and some parts of the United States, and what I saw along that path of my life inspired me to become a 'Chef.' The 'whites' they wore for me, during those growing-up and finding 'myself' years, portrayed a sort of fascinating and powerful figure in an extremely sophisticated, higly inviting and invigorating work place; and still maintain an unblemished and clean uniform after a very busy service. That picture of a 'Chef' stuck to my head for so many years.

True enough, with meager resources left to spend for the youngest, that dream never happened. Life went on. I went to university and studied an insignificant course, Business Management, and after graduating, I ended up working as a Credit and Financial Analyst in the banking industry in Manila; slugging it out in the corporate arena in Makati. It was the first taste of being called a 'yuppie' and was almost always looking forward to an after-office eating and drinking extravaganza in the expanding and growing Makati Business District; and, of course, the weekend.

Anyway, forging ahead to my life today, that dream as 'Chef' stayed in the back of my mind all the time that when I left the Philippines for Toronto in 2003; and after finally settling down on my own in 2005, I had started studying Professional Culinary Arts Courses in the City College to get that almost long-forgotten 'dream' going again. It was a Continuing Education Course, and more or less, students who have also shifted careers or who were trying to find work (like myself) as a newly landed found ourselves working with pots, knives and fire which I believe and I felt, everyone in class have never, ever touched during their past, professional lives.

Since then, I have been working in and out of different kitchens; flipping eggs and hamburgers, grilling steaks, shoving bread and chicken in a 500'C oven, and almost anything that can be either deep-fried or toasted just to serve hungry, sometimes pesky, customers. I became a 'grease' cook; a short-order cook with no definite place of employment, and definitely not a 'Chef.'

My articles are based on the after-thoughts of my past and present day experiences in this fast-paced, starkling, and sometimes disheveling kitchen environment. I never imagined that a kitchen 'worklife' turned that way as against the 'Ideal' environment I had thought about for years. No regrets. During this journey, I've discovered food which I've never thought I'd be able to taste. I learned to appreciate wine and travel more; now that I have understood the culture of food to society. That was non-existent when I was growing up.

This journey has not ended. I'm still discovering and still learning. It's a tough industry to be in and for what's next or for where I'll finally end up in remain a sordid mystery.

5 thoughts on “Spaghetti Al Pomodoro

  1. This pomodoro sounds really yummy. I should get some time to cook it this way especially the red wine. As I’ve told you earlier, mine has a bit of beer hehe. I do onions and garlic the same way you do but that’s all haha!

    Your kitchen stories never fail to amaze me. Last time you talked about rats in the kitchen. Now month-old fries and cooks who do weed. :-D

  2. I try to avoid fastfood restaurants too. I cannot forget the supposedly healthy meal I had at Kenny Rogers. It was a grilled sandwich and when it came, it was so greasy. I asked for napkins to remove the grease. After 10 napkins soaked in oil, I gave up. I asked why it was so greasy when it’s promoted as a healthy sandwich. The server said that it was deep fried in butter! Haven’t gone back to Kenny Rogers ever after that!

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