For a while, when I was in university, I was part of a small gang of starving students who used to get together every Thursday night for Spaghetti Night. It would rotate between each of our “pads”. The host would provide the pasta and the sauce and everybody else would bring stuff like bread, salad, wine and dessert. That way, at least once a week, we’d all get a really good meal for very little money.
One Spaghetti Night, the host accidentally burned the onions he was sautéing for the sauce. He didn’t have the supplies or the time to start over, so he just picked out the blackest onions and carried on. He apologized profusely if his sauce wasn’t up to his usual standards.
It was the best spaghetti sauce I’d ever eaten. He thought I was being cruelly sarcastic when I went on and on raving about how good the sauce was, but I finally convinced him that I really meant it.
Since then I often make my spaghetti sauce with burnt onions. I find it gives it a nice edge that seems to cut the acidity of the tomato…or something.
Spaghetti is odd dish. For us here in North America, it’s a main course. In Italy it’s just a side dish.
Spaghetti is probably one of the few dishes that is almost always better made at home than purchased in restaurants. Maybe because you end up paying way too much money in restaurants for a meal you can make yourself for next to nothing. Maybe because everyone has such different ideas on what constitutes good spaghetti sauce. During our university Spaghetti Nights no spaghetti was ever the same as the spaghetti the week before. We all tried to be creative with our sauces and do them just a little differently each time.
Some people like just plain tomato sauce with a little cheese grated on top. Some like a thick meaty sauce. Some like a chunky vegetable sauce. Some people swear by certain ready-made brands of sauce — sometimes adding their own twists; sometimes using it straight from the jar or can. Some people will use nothing but the recipes handed down from a family member.
I don’t have any standard recipe, but I don’t like a lot of stuff in my spaghetti sauce – just a nice smooth sauce with some herbs, maybe a few onions and mushrooms and often with TVP.
I like to put some anchovy in the sauce sometimes too or sprinkle some sliced black olives on top. I don’t like bread with spaghetti, but a good garlicky salad is a nice accompaniment. Or very occassionally – mussels. For some reason, mussels are good with spaghetti. And a good, hearty glass of wine, of course.
My mother likes mashed potatoes with spaghetti. It actually tastes really good, but is too much of a carb overkill, I think.
What’s absolutely essential for me when I make sauce is that I have to let it all simmer for a long time – at least a couple of hours. I usually make a big batch at once and then freeze the rest in little 2-portion containers.
I don’t like spaghetti that’s been warmed up in the microwave. The microwaving does strange things to tomato sauce. So when I take spaghetti for lunch, I eat it cold/room temperature. I pretend it’s a spaghetti salad.
You know the old story about Marco Polo bringing spaghetti to Italy from China? Well, it’s not even true. The Etruscans made pasta way back in 400 BC. There’s a bas-relief carving in a cave just north of Rome from way back then that depicts a pasta-making process.
But nobody thought of putting tomato sauce on the spaghetti until the 18th century. The Spanish explorer, Cortez brought tomatoes to Europe from Mexico back in 1519, but Europeans just used them as houseplants. They were afraid to eat them because tomatoes part of the poisonous nightshade family.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that spaghetti was introduced to North America via Italian immigrants. It also wasn’t until spaghetti was brought to North America that meat became part of the dish. Italians were used to eating meat only a few times a month, but in North America it was so much more plentiful, that it was incorporated into many of their dishes.
North Americans now eat some form of pasta for dinner approximately once a week.
One of the women from our university Spaghetti Nights recently told me that after she got married and started having kids she re-established the Thursday spaghetti night tradition among some of her friends and neighbours. It was a big hit because it gave young parents a chance to bring the kids out for a cheap meal, socialize with other young parents and gave everyone a break from cooking once a week – until it was their turn to host.