I have always considered myself to be a homebaker and much less of a cook. Between the two fields of culinary arts, I would very much prefer to bake. The reason? Things are more within my control when it comes to baking. As for cooking, there are one thousand and one reasons why things can go wrong. Okay, maybe I am overly exaggerating. But yeah, you get my point.
So when it comes to cooking, my repertoire of dishes is limited. One of the few tricks I can conjure up my sleeves would be pasta, more specifically spaghetti, as it is the only pasta dish I have experience handling with. Tucked in my mini library of books is a cookbook - Complete Italian Cooking. I selected one of the pasta recipe and used spaghetti in place of the original intended penne.
When making pasta, I always make it a point to use fresh tomatoes instead of canned tomatoes. I love how the tomatoes emit that cheery orange glow when they are nicely riped. Always buy your tomatoes few days in advance to avoid any disappointment of being left with the choice of half-ripened tomatoes available at the supermarket.
Among the few pasta recipes that I tried, I often notice that the amount of pasta stated is overestimated, resulting in insufficient tomato sauce for the pasta. Hence, I tend to use more tomatoes than is asked for. It is always better to have an abundance of pasta sauce rather than to discover that the pasta sauce is barely enough to coat.
I made a blunder when preparing the ingredients. Notice that all my spices are finely chopped except for the onions? That was an oversight of mine. To give the pasta a meaty appeal, I added imitation crabsticks, shelled prawns and cheese & onion sausages. Chicken thigh would do a great job here but that slipped my mind.
I am rather particular when it comes to eating pasta. Basically, there are two thing I take note of. The flavour and the pasta texture. A good pasta must be flavourful even if very simple ingredients are used. It is a matter of grasping the balance among the commonly used spices and herbs, namely; onions, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper; and not forgetting the tomatoes. Texture wise, the pasta must be firm al dente, meaning 'firm to the bite'.
For this attempt, I am fairly satisfied with the flavour. It gives a natural sweetness coming from the caramelized onions and the stewed tomatoes. I would probably add more chopped chillies to bring out the heat next time and leave out the crabsticks.
Chili Tomato Spaghetti (recipe largely tweaked from Complete Italian Cooking by Hamlyn)
Serving size: 3-4 person
250g dried spaghetti
2 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-2 tbs english parsley, finely chopped
300g prawns, shelled and diced
any kind of sausages, chopped into small chunks or 300g chicken thigh diced
2 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Preparing the tomotoes: Place tomatoes in a bowl of hot boiling water. Leave the tomatoes to stand until the skin is wrinkled. Remove tomatoes and peel of the skin. It should be easy to remove. Quarter each tomato and remove the seeds. Slice into small chunks, retain the juices.
Cooking the pasta: Fill a large pot with water and bring it to boil. Add the dried pasta, some salt and oil as indicated on the instructions on the pasta packaging. Cook the pasta until it is firm to bite. Drain and set aside. The pasta will continue to cook after draining. Do not rinse in iced water.
Sautee garlic and onions: Heat olive oil in a pan or skillet. Add the finely chopped onions and garlic and sautee them until they are lightly browned.
Making the pasta sauce: Add the tomatoes and the chillies to the sauteed garlic and onions. Simmer and reduce the sauce over medium-low heat. When it is about to reduce to your desired consistency, add the prawns and meat. Sprinkle the parsley and give the sauce a good stir. Simmer for a further 2-3 minutes until the meat is all cooked.
Tossing the pasta: Bring the heat to low and toss the cooked pasta into the sauce, ensuring the pasta is well coated with the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pasta is ready to serve.
Notes: If pasta sauce turns dry when simmering or at any point, add a little of the pasta water.