I have very few childhood memories; I have no idea why. My childhood was great – a loving family, a wonderful home, tons of sports, cool friends. Nonetheless, I really don’t have many specific memories. (I’m not sure that bodes well for my future memory capacity). But there is one memory I could never forget. My dad always cooked spaghetti on Sunday nights. I can still smell the meat browning, the onions sauteing, and the garlic and basil wafting through the air. It was his only venture in the kitchen, but he knocked it out of the park. (My parents have since divorced, and to this day my mom says the only thing she misses is my dad’s spaghetti! And I can say that with a laugh because in all honesty, my parents are closer today than they ever were in their 42 year marriage… which I find interesting on many levels).
My dad always experimented with his spaghetti sauce. There was your standard – ground beef, some Italian sausage, tomatoes (fresh and canned), olive oil, a splash of red wine, some butter on occasion. And then there were the what-were-you-thinking moments – anchovies, crab meat, baby oysters, and I’m sure a number of things he snuck in there that we never knew about. All in all, the sauce was fantastic. I do tend to prefer the traditional, however, so I’ve modeled my sauce after his more “normal” iterations. Feel free to add what you want (although, I’d stay away from anything oyster-like) to make this sauce a memory that will last a lifetime.
Some tips for fail-proof spaghetti:
- Always always salt your pasta water before you cook the pasta. It should taste like ocean water. If it doesn’t, add more salt!
- Go for a very firm al dente. Drain the pasta at least a minute before you think you should. It will continue to cook, and there’s nothing worse than a big blob of sticky, squishy pasta. Even the best sauce can’t make up for overdone pasta.
- When you near the end of the pasta cooking time, dip a measuring cup in the pasta water and reserve 1-2 cups before draining. This pasta water is very useful for ensuring the right consistency of your sauce. If it’s a bit too thick, add some of the pasta water and it will bring the sauce to a wonderful, thick, but not gloppy creation to match your perfectly cooked pasta.
- Salt each ingredient as you add it to the sauce. This will give you a deeper, richer flavor than if you just dump a bunch of salt in at the end.