How an Italian in Ireland makes pasta with fresh tomato sauce

Kitchen Cabinet: This spaghetti al pomodoro is based on our traditional family recipe

Manuella Spinelli’s fresh tomato pasta

Manuella Spinelli’s fresh tomato pasta

 

I am a home cook with no formal training. What I learned I learned along the way from family traditions and from working in kitchens with chefs and cooks. For me, food is about simplicity, as dictated by my Italian heritage. I was once invited to a dinner club with friends and was tasked with the first course. After much thinking, I decided to stick to something I love: a simple spaghetti al pomodoro, or spaghetti with tomato sauce. It was a great success.

There are different ways of making tomato sauce, but it all starts from a good passata. The traditional passata requires longer timings. Passata literally means passed through in Italian; it refers to passing the tomatoes through a food mill to remove skin and seeds, before jarring them. Passata is generally the base for all sauces.

Making tomato sauce evokes lovely memories of long summers in Italy, and that beautiful, unforgettable smell that pervades the house

I have great fun making it with Mum and Dad in summer. It is something that evokes lovely memories of long summers in Italy, and that beautiful, unforgettable smell of tomatoes that pervades the house.

For a quick tomato sauce, there are various options. What is important is the quality of the tomatoes. Purists will tell you to use specific varieties, but when I am home I use whatever is available from my dad’s vegetable garden.

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Generally, a tomato sauce requires the tomatoes to be peeled and seeded. A popular way of doing this is to remove the stems, score the base of the tomatoes with an X, drop them into a pot of boiling water and leave them for about a minute, until the skins split. You then remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and plunge them into ice water straight away, to stop the cooking. The skin should slide right off. At this point, you cut the tomatoes into quarters and remove the seeds, before using the flesh for a sauce.

Another method, one I prefer when I don’t have a lot of time, is to cook the tomatoes and pass them through a sieve. I will explain this method below.

In terms of dried pasta, I like using either Rummo (they also have a very good gluten-free range) or Garofalo. Both are widely available in Ireland. The cooking time varies depending on the brand. Make sure to check it on the packet. Like most Italians, I like my pasta al dente. This means that the pasta should be cooked until it is firm to the bite yet still has a certain elasticity. The secret to a good pasta dish is not overcooking it.

Outside of Italy people tend to be shy with salting the water when they cook pasta. Salting the water is key to cooking pasta, as it enhances the flavour and texture

I notice that outside of Italy people tend to be shy with salting the water when they cook pasta. Salting the water is key to cooking pasta, as it enhances the flavour and texture. First, boil the water; when it boils, drop in a generous handful of coarse sea salt. At that point you may add the pasta. When the water is back to boiling point, you can start keeping track of your cooking time.

Here is my way of making tomato sauce, but there are many versions. Once you understand the basics, you have to find what works best for you.

Manuela Spinelli is secretary general of Euro-Toques Ireland, a community of chefs and cooks that aims to preserve Irish culinary heritage and support traditional cooking methods while promoting producers of local and seasonal artisan products

Spaghetti al pomodoro

Serves four

Ingredients
320g spaghetti (generally a portion of spaghetti is 80g per person, however if you are only eating pasta, without a second course, you may increase the quantities)
Coarse sea salt
900g to 1kg tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
12 basil leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
A pinch of salt

To serve
Parmesan
A drop of extra-virgin olive oil

Method
1
For the sauce: Wash the tomatoes and roughly cut into four.

2 Add two tablespoons of olive oil into a large saucepan.

3 Holding your knife flat, lightly crush the garlic cloves and remove the skin. Drop the garlic into the oil. Add the roughly chopped tomatoes. Add the basil leaves. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

4 Place the saucepan on the hob over high heat to start with and lower it after two minutes.

5 Let the tomatoes gently cook; this will take about 15-20 minutes. You will see that the tomatoes release water. You may use a wooden spoon and lightly press them to help the release and cooking. There is no need to cover with a lid.

6 Once the tomatoes are cooked, remove from the heat. With the help of a wooden spoon, pass through a sieve to remove skin and seeds. Your passata is now ready. You may store it for a couple of days in the fridge or freeze it. Once you get this sauce right, you can play around with it and turn it into many different pasta sauces by combining with vegetables, meat or fish, adding spices and herbs.

7 For the pasta: Bring a medium-sized pot of water to boil, salt the water with a handful of coarse sea salt and drop your spaghetti in. It normally takes 9-10 minutes to cook spaghetti al dente.

8 Gently heat the passata in a separate medium-sized saucepan, season to taste and add some fresh basil.

9 Drain the pasta and pour it into your saucepan with the tomato sauce. Serve in individual soup plates. Personally I love a simple plate of spaghetti al pomodoro dressed with a drop of fresh extra virgin olive oil and Parmesan.

Kitchen Cabinet is a series of recipes from chefs who are members of Euro-Toques Ireland, who have come together during the coronavirus outbreak to share some of the easy, tasty things that they like to cook and eat at home #ChefsAtHome

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