The art of spaghetti

Dear Mother,

You have unceremoniously ruined spaghetti for me.

My mother concocts the best spaghetti is not a myth. It’s a timeless and simple work of art. She never had to resort to squeamish phrases like “squiggly spaghetti is ready, it’s delicious but eat it up while it’s hot.” All she had to do was decide to whip it up and let the aroma linger.

She uses fresh tomatoes, fresh tufts of basil, oregano, garlic, shrimps, olive oil and the obvious – spaghetti. These 7 ingredients on their own don’t entice the palate,  but together they become something bigger. She makes them into something larger than life.

It is a sloppy dish but you can arrange it delicately if you prefer. If that is the way you eat your spaghetti. But to me, the tomatoes and olive oil make the spaghetti lubricated and slippery. It is the sort of sauce that demands you slurp the noodles, staining your cheeks with flecks of red sauce. It is a visceral and significant experience created by my mom, especially after a long and unforgiving day.

The exact genesis is not quite known but even if I raid her memory, I will never figure out the exact dimensions of this recipe. I always find tomatoes, garlic, and fresh shrimp in her kitchen anyway, neatly tucked away in the back of the fridge, the base of the now-famous homemade, pillowy, delicate spaghetti dish.

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So Italy had a few misses in terms of food like the 1 euro "arancini" and the "eggplant and buratta pizza" at upscale obica lounge. The hits were immense especially the moist, tender bread and the mouth-puckering custard nestled "berry cake" baked by the nuns. The tiny concealed little store hidden from the main hustle that sells plump squidgy "biscotti" and unctuous buttery "cannoli". The cherry on the top was this dish again at a family run of the mill cafe that served us homemade pillowy, delicate spaghetti with tufts of basil and sun dried tomatoes and super fresh, vibrant tomato sauce. No cheese required. Culinary inspiration devised in an non abstruse way. Sorry, the exotic infusion gelato served at the end will be saved for a later post. #pizzaorspaghetti

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As with all dishes containing tomatoes, there are lots of variations in technique. Some use a combination of tinned and fresh tomatoes, while others opt for a squirt of puree. The notion of cherry or plum tomatoes appeal to some, while others go for a smooth, pasta Arrabbiata sauce. Many suggest that a teaspoon of sugar will “open up the flavor”, but not my mother. My mother prefers fresh, chopped, and very ripe tomatoes, simmered for a long time. Tomatoes always take longer to cook than you think they will. This will make the sauce stronger, thicker, and less watery. Most recipes include onions, but she prefers not to infuse the oil with onions. I am a firm believer that frying onions until brown, then chucking them in any dish will create a “pièce de résistance”. She instead infuses the olive oil with the prawn.

The sauce has the natural garlic taste and a pinch of Himalayan salt, too, which gives it a slightly more buttery taste, as opposed to the sharp, acrid salt of olives. In terms of garnishing, she always goes for dried oregano or fresh basil (never fresh oregano or dried basil). There is never a modest sprinkle of cheese. My mother doesn’t like cheese in her pasta. Oh, and she always uses spaghetti. Not fettuccine. Not penne. Not farfalle. Not rigatoni. Not even linguine. Always spaghetti.

In the large, wide silver saucepan, swirls of thin spaghetti wove their way between thinly sliced prawns and bits of red tomato. The steam of the dish engulfs the house and no coaxing was required. No red pepper flakes, butter or even wine will suffice. After the tangy fresh tomato, the flavor was full of red bursts and spikes of garlic shooting across your tongue, underneath, like a steadying hand, a salty cushion of shrimp, the soft velvet of oregano, and pasta warm as beach sand.

Dear Mother, no other spaghetti dish will ever taste as good as you make it. Now excuse me, while you sit in the hall and watch your tv serial, I sneak into the kitchen for another heaping of your homemade spaghetti.

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