Sunday, January 24, 2010

On Spaghetti Sauce

I had the most amazing plate of spaghetti today.

Sharing the plate with my spaghetti was a rather large salad, and they intermingled some as I ate. I love it when my spaghetti and salad intermingle. Occurring at first only along the border betwixt the spaghetti and salad, their association grows as I eat until they have fully intermixed. And something wonderful happens in those moments of commingling: a synergy produces bites that are more savory than the sum of their respective scrumptiousness, more divine than their combined delectability. And sometimes, if the stars align just right, a bite will be supremely succulent. It will be “The Bite”. You can't predict when this will happen, but when you taste The Bite, you know it. When I taste The Bite, I feel as though in heaven. Spaghetti and salad heaven that is. You could offer me your finest foreign cuisine, or a trip to a world-famous five-star restaurant, and at that moment I would decline. Not because I don't like foreign cuisine. On the contrary, I'm a big fan. But because right then there's nothing I would rather eat. And because when The Bite happens, it can't be topped. In that instant it's all I want. It's all anyone would They might want other things, like rewarding relationships or a comfortable house. If they're into that. 

You may have noticed I'm talking about spaghetti. (Not to mention salad—but we'll save that for another day.)

Oh yes, spaghetti.
I'm keyed up about spaghetti.
Let's talk about it.

Does spaghetti sound like a dish to get excited about? Most of you would say no. It sounds like something you'd cook when you don't have a lot of time or ideas, but something you rarely expect to fully satisfy. When I was younger I felt the same way. Spaghetti was ok. But just ok. It was an enjoyable meal, but nothing to write home about—I don't recall ever doing so. I thought the same of salad.

Nowadays things are different. Now spaghetti can be very appetizing, even tantalizing. I'm sure you're wondering why. At least I suspect it. And I want to tell you about it. More especially, about the sauce. Yet first, I have a question or two you may be able to help me with.  

Why is spaghetti sauce called spaghetti sauce?

Noodle dishes certainly create a terminology quandary. It never feels right calling red tomato-based pasta sauce spaghetti sauce, because sometimes I eat it with linguine. Is it then linguine sauce? If I eat it with rotini is it rotini sauce? Can it be penne sauce? Conchiglioni sauce? Stringozzi sauce? Not only is it confusing and potentially inaccurate to call it spaghetti sauce, the other sundry noodles likely feel left out.

Other terms are in use, but each has its flaws. To wit:

Tomato sauce? Sounds alright, but in many countries (both English- and Spanish-speaking) it means ketchup. And in the U.S. it usually refers to a plain, unseasoned sauce.
Marinara sauce? Fairly useful, but it's inaccurate because it means “of the sea”, suggesting it contains seafood. So unless you put fish in your sauce, it really shouldn't be called marinara.
Pasta sauce? Not specific enough, obviously.
Red sauce? Even less specific.
Red pasta sauce? Still not specific enough.
Tomato-based pasta sauce? Pretty good, you may be on to something....
Gourmet tomato-based pasta sauce? There's an accurate one! But clearly too long.

It's a sticky situation, and there may not be a ready solution. If you find one let me know.
In the meantime I will make do with what meager terminology is available to me.
I'll call it spaghetti sauce. (*cringe*)

Back to Spaghetti Sauce

As it happens, a few years ago I was introduced to a method of making spaghetti sauce far superior to what I had previously known. My roommate Ray taught me how to make it. He had learned some tricks from a friend of his who lived in Italy, after which he experimented with one or two other ingredients and created a magnificent sauce before passing it along to me. Ever since then I've prepared the sauce regularly, and always enjoyed it. Some batches turn out better than others, and it's never quite the same twice, though I follow the same basic recipe. But it's always good. And it's so much better than “regular” spaghetti sauce, I feel like it's worth sharing with the world. Or the three people who read my blog. Whichever.

My spaghetti timeline is as follows:
In 2006, spaghetti was ordinary.
In 2007, Ray taught me about the mysteries of spaghetti sauce.
In 2008, spaghetti and salad played integral roles in my massive diet overhaul (when I instituted a version of the DASH diet and lost 25 pounds within six months).
In 2009, I developed theories about how spaghetti and salad can work together to abolish world hunger.
In 2010 I decided to write a blog about spaghetti sauce.

Before I give you the recipe for this spaghetti sauce, I feel a few other salient points should be made about the proper enjoyment of said sauce. What are these points? I'm glad you asked.

First, the spaghetti sauce in question is meant to be used generously. Put plenty of it on your noodles, don't hold back. If you're a sauce-scrimper, start by putting twice as much sauce as you normally would, and go from there.
Second, for some reason this spaghetti sauce is almost always better the day after. I don't understand why, but it tastes better if it's been in the fridge overnight and then gets reheated. It's mysterious, yet consistent. Don't get me wrong, it's still enjoyable on Day One. But it may be helpful to understand this, perhaps to avoid any hasty judgments about the sauce.  On Day One, your spaghetti experience will have only just begun.

Third, the spaghetti sauce is best enjoyed with salad, most especially when the spaghetti and salad intermingle as described above.

Note on salad:  Whatever vegetables you have are fine. I usually use tomatoes and broccoli on my salad, but I don't think it's possible to have too many vegetables. Lately I've been using a lot of others, like bell peppers, cucumbers, olives, onion, mushrooms, pea pods, and avocado, as well as non-vegetable things like croutons, bacon bits, and cheese. And dressing. (If you're trying to cut calories or reduce saturated fat intake, Spritzers® are an excellent alternative to regular dressing.) 

When you get all this together on a plate, that's when miracles start happening.

And finally, The Recipe*:

What you'll need:
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • ~1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 onions
  • 1 Serrano pepper
  • 5-10 cloves of garlic (most of a bulb)
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 5 medium tomatoes (or 1 28oz can diced tomatoes, see substitutions below)
  • 2 29oz cans of tomato sauce (or 2 26.5 oz cans of spaghetti sauce, or one of each)
  • 1 teaspoon basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon oregano flakes
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
    Instructions: Cook meat and drain. Dice all vegetables. Heat olive oil in a separate, large pan (wok, large sauce pan, or deep frying pan) and add onions, Serrano pepper (finely chopped), and bell pepper. Stir. Mince garlic and add. Add tomatoes after onions and bell pepper cook a little bit.  Stir regularly throughout.  Once the vegetables are tender, add tomato sauce and stir. Add basil, oregano, sugar, and cinnamon, and stir. Add cooked meat and stir. Simmer for 5-30 minutes, stirring regularly. Serve w/ noodles** of your choice.

    Lazy-Man's substitutions:
    • Replace garlic cloves with about 1-2 teaspoons of garlic powder. (I do this when I don't have garlic or a good press on hand.)
    • Replace fresh tomatoes with a 28oz can of diced tomatoes (I usually do this).
    Really-Lazy-Man's substitution: 
    • Pay someone to prepare this meal for you.  
        *Please note: This is how I usually make it, and it feeds 6-10 people for one meal. You can increase or decrease the quantity very easily, and experimental changes are encouraged. Try almost any vegetable, replace turkey with chicken or beef, and use other spices in place of or in addition to those on the list. Start with the basics, and then see what you can come up with.  And I actually don't measure the spices or oil but I tried to make a reasonable guess about the quantities. 

        **Whole wheat noodles recommended.
         And may they intermingle till the end of time.


        1. A blog all about spagetti...haha! Thanks for the recipe. mouth is watering already!

        2. Ahhhh, one blog to rule them all. Fabulous, Ben! I particulary love the fact that you were able to work the word "synergy" into it. I'm also eager to experience the bliss of The Bite. Hopefully it is everything you have described it to be (and perhaps, much much more). Thank You for writing this!!

        3. you've convinced me. I'm going to make this this weekend. Yum-o!

        4. I hate it when my food intermingles. I seriously need those compartmentalized plates usually reserved for kiddos. :)