On Top of Spaghetti

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.

And, everybody likes spaghetti, right? Do you have a favourite spaghetti recipe or spaghetti tradition?

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31 responses to “On Top of Spaghetti

  1. we eats lots of pasta. it’s so easy, total comfort food and the bean loves it too. as for spaghetti sauce, my mom’s sauce is the one i love and adore. i eat it in a bowl with some grated cheese and maybe some crakers. no pasta needed. it’s a very (VERY) meaty sauce that has to cook for at least 5 hours. i can’t get it to taste exactly like mom does it, but i’ve come pretty darn close. hmmm, i think i’ll put that on the menu for the weekend.

  2. Mr. Jazz makes the sauce – always vegetarian. Somehow ground meat simmered for hours in spaghetti sauce just doesn’t to it for me. If I do add meat, it’ll usually be leftover chicken…

    We often just sautée veggies (onions, garlic, bell peppers, sun dried tomatos), dump them on the pasta, add some good Parmesan and a salad and we’re set.

  3. It wasn’t till I was in University, that I learned that there are many different ways to can prepare spaghetti.

    Because growing up, it was always the same. My Mom would make the same sauce, and use the same type of pasta, EVERY time.

    Still does, too.

    Not like it’s bad or anything.

    But after 40 years, you just kind of feel ho-hum about it.

    Unless I make it myself.

  4. Spaghetti has long been one of my favorites. While I’ve never had the desire or inclination to cook, I’m fortunate that Karen is a great cook.

    One of the best eateries for spaghetti that I’ve ever been too was a place called Spaghetti Warehouse in Little Rock, Arkansas. Unfortunately, it went out of business years ago. It was housed in an old railroad station. The building still stands. It is located on the grounds of the Clinton Presidential Library and is the home of the The University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

    Another one we liked in the Gastown area of Vancouver, B.C., called Old Spaghetti Factory.

  5. “Green” Spaghetti with garlic saulted in olive oil. My preferred one.

    Second place for alfredo sauce mixed with spinachs.

    The anchovy one is great too with plain tomato sauce.

    In Argentina, where we have big influence from spanish and italian cuisine, pasta is a main dish…. specially on sundays before laying in the couch to enjoy soccer!

    Have a great day XUP!

  6. Spaghetti “pissgetti” is a popular dish in our home. Different sauces I can handle, but overcooked pasta is a deal breaker for me. Add a good wine, crusty bread to mop up the sauce and a side of rapini – yum! Now I’m hungry…

  7. When I make spaghetti it’s a huge production. I make a ton of sauce and store a lot of it away in the freezer for meals over the next few weeks.

    I sneak all sorts of vegetables into the sauce: onions, peppers, carrots and garlic, of course, but I also roast up red pepper and zucchini and throw them in, plus spinach and sometimes a bit of cauliflower. To that I add lots of tomato sauce, plus sometimes a bunch of deskinned fresh tomatoes, if they’re in season. After everything’s all good and cooked I use a hand blender to puree the whole thing till it’s good and smooth. I really like the smokey flavour that the roasted veggies give the sauce.

    Back before kids, Ed and I used to make our own pasta, too. Back in his university days, Ed and his friends used to get together for pasta nights and make their own pasta. (Back in my university days I used to eat grilled cheese sandwiches and canned tomato soup.) Anyway, it’s fun making the spaghetti ourselves, though time-consuming, which is why we’ve done it maybe once since the kids came along. I miss it, though…I really should try making it again.

  8. Smothermother – No pasta? That’s not spaghetti!! I think the longer it cooks, the better, too. And leaving it to eat the next day is better still.

    Jazz – Do you ever make a completely fresh sauce with just tomatoes and vegetables and herbs – no paste or sauce? Yum

    Ken – Yes. Creepy Spaghetti kid.

    Friar – I don’t think I ever make anything the same way twice – actually drives my daughter crazy – especially if she particularly liked something and I can never get it the same again – ever. Also it makes it very difficult for her to try and learn to cook.

    Mike – There’s an Old Spaghetti Factory in Toronto, too. I don’t know which was the original. I could never understand going out for spaghetti. It’s so easy to make at home and always so much tastier, in my opinion. Also, how could you have gone through your whole life without learning to cook? How can anyone who enjoys eating have no interest in preparing food? This is something I’ve been curious about for a long time.

    Guillermo – I love the garlic and olive oil one, too. (PS: I was trying to get in on that forum about the guy who thinks we’re importing immigrants to be slaves, but I couldn’t figure out how that worked. Is that attached to your blog or is that his forum??)

    MM – What’s the favourite sauce in your house? Kids usually like just plain tomato, don’t they?

    Mary Lynn – There’s a lot of good fresh pasta available now, too – though I suppose making it yourself is always fun. That’s a great way to sneak a lot of vegetables into your kids’ diets. I like smoky flavoured sauces, too. I should try making a sauce with some roasted vegetables some time.

  9. I make my sauce just like Mary Lynn. I roast vegetables (XUP yes I agree burnt onions are a great addition) and I blend the heck out of them so no one suspects the plain ‘ol tomato sauce has anything “good” in it. I also roast a big batch of tomatoes too – they are absolutely delicious in a sauce. My friend’s Nonna used to do it, so I copied her. I highly recommend trying it.

  10. How can anyone who enjoys eating have no interest in preparing food? I guess it’s because I’m easily satisfied. Karen only prepares 1 meal a day – supper. For anything else, I have to fend for myself. Sometimes lunch is leftovers, but more often than not it’s something very simple. Right now I’m eating ramen noodles — not because its inexpensive, but, rather, I like it, though I do season it liberally with chili flakes or Tabasco sauce. Breakfast is equally simple.

    There may be a psychological element to it, to0, for me. When I was a kid, my mom’s kitchen was often a very nasty place — I’ll forgo a description of it here.

  11. You know what’s delish? Do the Guillermo thing with the garlic sauteed in olive oil, pour it over hot spaghetti, then add some crumbled feta cheese and a couple of handfuls of halved cherry tomatoes and toss. The heat of the spaghetti sort of melts the cheese and makes the tomatoes taste even better. But you have to make it in the summer when your neighbours give you bucket-loads of fresh, sweet cherry tomatoes. The store-bought ones don’t taste very good.

    Also, I like to make marinara sauce and serve it with linguini. I have to remember to make the sauce the day before and let it sit in the fridge overnight.

  12. When I was a kid I ate lunch at a friends house and her mother made Spaghetti and she plopped the the Sphaghetti in front of us on our plates with nothing on it and then my friend yells, “Mom don’t forget the sauce.” And the mother brought us back the castup and a loaf of wonderbread.

  13. Glen – Are you fishing for an invitation to dinner?

    MM – I’m really going to have to try this roast vegetable thing. Really. It sounds good.

    LGS – Ya. I don’t like the milky sauces though.. or that one with the clams.Beurk…

    Mike – Ah – kitchen drama….okay then…

    Alison – Ya, we make something like that. We also put julienned basil in it and steamed asparagus. I think there’s a recipe on the inside lid of the PC crumbled feta cheese box.

    Cedar – Oddly enough I have a very similar story. It was at the home of a little German immigrant girl I’d befriended. Except her mom gave us macaroni with butter, wonder bread and a bottle of ketchup. It was actually pretty good. Was your friend a little German immigrant girl?

  14. I hated spaghetti when I was a kid because Mom was a fantastic cook with everything else. I hated her spaghetti. As an adult, I came around and for years made the same sauce over and over: Ragu tradional style sauce to which I added garlic, red wine, oregano and ground italian sausage. Over the years as I started cutting back on salt, the Ragu started tasting way too salty for me so I began experimenting. Now I always start with a can of the grocery store brand Italian style tomatoes. I drain the sliced/stewed ones and toss in a seasoned olive oil for a chunky sauce or use the diced ones, drained and run through the blender for a smooth sauce. I also like experimenting with all different shapes of pasta. We have pasta alot. And usually for any meat it is turkey meatballs. I like to play with non-tomato sauces too like white wine, garlic and canned artichokes. I usually have chicken in that. I also love cold pasta salads and use lots of red peppers in those. Yum. I should go eat my lunch now.

  15. Spaghetti was my favourite food growing up. My mother’s sauce is still the best ever (secret ingredient: Worcestershire sauce). I still love spaghetti, we have it here often.

    I love the idea of the Thursday Night Spaghetti Dinner. I wish I was a part of one!

  16. My oldest son likes pasta but hates spaghetti and other string like noodles. Its a texture thing with him so we try out all sorts of other shapes. My favorite way to have pasta is with cut up asparagus, penne the same size, and finely grated garlic and good romano, and a very light cream sauce made with a butter flour roux, buttermilk, and lemonjuice.

    The kids favorite is spaetzle (little sparrows) which are homemade little egg noodles (they look like little birds) which after being made get pan fried in veggie oil and fried onions sprinkled with the best stinky cheese we can find, and then served with hot sauerkraut as a garnish.

  17. I just made spaghetti yesterday. I usually use hamburger and add onions, garlic and herbs de Provence and tomatoes, of course. I haven’t tried to burn the onions. There are a lot of burned tastes that I like-my favorite being the burned part of barbequed ribs. Some people like burned popcorn but not me.

  18. Oh boy, I’m one of those weird people who doesn’t really like spagetti sauce all that much. I love pasta but would rather eat it with anything but red sauce. There is one exception, a friend of mine is Italian and his Mom and Dad grow their own tomatoes, and make their own sauce and it’s the best sauce I’ve ever tasted in my life. It’s smooth and I think she adds a bit of wine to the sauce but I’m not sure.

  19. I made a huge pot of spaghetti today. With chicken meat balls, as JG likes lots of meat in his sauce.
    I find I can thaw tomato sauce in the microwave if I don’t heat it at all. Just put it on defrost until it is mushy enough to break up into a pan to reheat.
    Mine is never the same twice, but works best with a dollop of red wine in the sauce and a dollop of white wine inside the cook.
    And it was Saturday that was spaghetti day when we were starving students.

  20. Two quick stories from my college days:
    1) Back then, there was a Mother’s Pizza in North Bay. On Tuesday nights, it had all you can eat spaghetti for $1.99. It was right next door to a mall with a movie theatre that had Cheapie Tuesday night — I think it was $1.99, too. So many of my classmates would go out on Tuesday nights for a cheap supper and cheap night out.

    2) I was the cook for my roommates, being six or seven years older than them, and having had a French Canadian Mom who taught me to cook. One night, I had to stay at school late, so I told my roommate to go home and start the spaghetti sauce, because he had watched me make it. I got a call in the broadcast journalism newsroom a bit later. One of the other boys asked if you fry the meat before you put the Bravo and tomato soup and spices in. When I said yes, he yelled “See, Glen! I told ya!”
    So we went out for supper that night, kept the sauce simmering all evening, and ate it the next day. It wasn’t bad at all.

  21. I love the idea of spaghetti night, if I had friends I’d do it!
    My spaghetti never comes out the same twice either. The best is all homemade from fresh garden veggies. I just throw in whatever we have and it’s always fabulous 🙂

  22. My maiden name sounds like something out of a Sopranos episode, so I grew up eating a lot of pasta We have spaghetti a lot because it is quick and you can make a sauce, or a topping, out of just about anything. But the big favorite, is by far the easiest to make: garlic buttered spaghetti. Fresh garlic sauteed with a bit of butter, just to take the bite out of it (sometimes we don’t even bother doing this). Once the spaghetti is cooked, you just add the garlic and then add your preferred amount of butter to the hot spaghetti. Sooooo good! Only down side is that you have to use a lot of butter…wait, is that really a downside?

    Of course, you can dress that up by adding most anything: sauteed mushrooms and onions, or some hot Italian sausage or meatballs, or asparagus, or diced chiles, or cheese of just about any variety. You get the picture.

  23. Geewits – Mmm – the artichoke one sounds good. I may have to try that

    Lynn – Come on Lynn – you’re the master organizer, you should be able to throw together a regular spaghetti night with your eyes closed.

    Mudmama – I don’t think I’ve ever had spaetzle like that. In the old country they’re just served plain with butter as a side dish like potatoes or rice. – maybe with a little gravy on them.

    Linda – No, I don’t like burnt popcorn either. I’ve never used herbs de Provence in spaghetti sauce. I would have thought the tomato would overwhelm the delicate herbs??

    Betsy Mae – It’s not my all time favourite either – there are a lot of things I’d rather eat with pasta than red sauce, but my daughter loves it so I make it quite often.

    Dr. Monkey – Whole grain pasta of course, right?

    Mary – Cool – you had a spaghetti night too as students. Here I thought we’d invented it. I like the idea of the wine inside the cook, too.

    Bob – Ya the longer the sauce simmers, the better, I think. That’s probably the best tip for good red sauce.

    Charlene – What do you mean, “if you had friends”??? Just organize something in your neighbourhood maybe? It’s a great way to make friends. Go on – I double dog dare you.

    Kimberly – Yes, I do get the picture and even thought it’s 8:00 am and I just had breakfast I feel like eating that right now.

  24. Spaetzle gets served all sorts of ways depending on where you’re from. (Papa Pan’s family is Austrian and Italian on one side). The Italians add the cheese and the Austrian’s can take an onion and make 3000 different flavours with it depending on how they prepare and cook it) The other way I like them (but get at the farmer’s market because my daughter is disgusted by eating mushrooms and I won’t take the time if it’s just me eating it) is as the noodle is a rich homemade mushroom soup/gravy. The woman who makes them that way is from the black forest.

  25. Mudmama – I wonder if there’s an Austrian cookbook that tells you the 3000 ways to cook an onion. Austria is some place I’d like to visit very soon, too.

    Lebowski – I think that’s my favourite way of enjoying pasta, too.