This is a strange transition month. Circumstances have rendered me homeless for exactly the month of August, and I’ve been relegated to a sort of frontier living. I have at my disposal one knife, one skillet and once saucepan, so everything I cook for the days ahead have to be worked out with this limited set of implements and utensils.
I’ve grown quite used to my kitchen knife, so I carry it with me on almost every one of my extended travels. Additionally, I also carry a light chopping board, so that I don’t have to subject my knife to stone counters or other unwieldy and unkind cutting surfaces. The only catch is that I always have to check my luggage in when I fly because no airline will let me on board with an 8” Japanese steel Santoku in my cabin baggage.
I took this forced circumstance of homelessness as a break from the rigour of my everyday existence of being always connected to the internet (thereby limiting my culinary repertoire to the recipes in my memory and the books I’m carrying with me) and being equipped with all the necessary things I need to make whatever I like. I do however miss my oven.
Things that can be cooked up in a one-skillet-one-saucepan configuration tend to almost always be easy and no-nonsense. They’re quick to whip up and still pack a good degree of flavour. Pasta is probably the foundation of the refined bachelor living culinary lifestyle. So many Murakami protagonists, almost always loners, seem to have this one ability— to cook a good pasta. Magic Marinade has had a super easy pasta recipe before, but that one didn’t exactly have a sauce to it. The idea of a pasta in sauce does seem to add a degree of life to it.
A pasta Arrabbiata is a terribly simple pasta. It’s a celebration of healthy, good tomatoes and the simplicity of Italian cooking. It is necessary however, to have very good tomatoes in order to pull this off properly, especially since the ingredient list is so meagre than an inadequate tomato might bring the dish down quite sadly.
Let me show you how to handle your tomatoes
Firstly, tomatoes should not be stored in a the fridge. The temperature and condensation in a fridge doesn’t let the tomatoes breathe and ripen. Unless you buy tomatoes that are super ripe and soft, it’s best to keep them out without any plastic covering. You could store them with a banana if you want them to ripen faster. Bananas give off ethanol as they ripen, which in turn helps the tomatoes ripen faster. Even if you buy tomatoes that are closer to orange than red, you could leave them out for a few days till they’re nice and red and ready to cook.
* * *
This recipe is a pretty easy and quick one to execute. You could ready it in about 15-20 minutes, but I’d advise you to take your time with it. You’d still probably finish it in under half an hour.I usually put the water to boil first while I score the garlic, after which I dunk the tomatoes into the water once it’s come to a rolling boil. While the tomatoes are blanching, I get the skillet started with the oil and garlic and chillies, so that by the time the tomatoes are out and peeled and chopped, the garlic is golden brown and ready to be fished out of the oil.
The role of garlic in this dish is to impart a subtle hint of garlic to the oil without staying in as a textural element. This dish is primarily comprised of three textures, the al dente bite of the pasta, with the completely cooked sauciness of the tomatoes, with the occasional well punctuated interruption of the tiny bits of fresh finely chopped parsley.
You could grate some parmesan into the mix to give it a gentle hint of cheese. The contribution is subtle, but it does lift the flavour just a bit.
It’s best to be judicious with the use of the chilli, because its heat gets almost completely incorporated into the oil, and overdoing it is almost a surefire way to a case of pretty acute heartburn. The chilli is also notoriously easy to burn, so it’s best to make sure you have your tomatoes ready when you put the chilli in.
This spaghetti Arrabbiata isn’t the fanciest of Italian recipes. It is still a pretty good example of Italian cuisine’s inherent ability of making a little go a very long way. It’s also a good starter recipe for cooking the authentic Italian flavour, and is a base recipe to which you could make your own additions and enhancements (with pancetta, red wine, fancy cheeses, herbs and things). It isn’t the sort of dish you’d cook up to woo someone over a candlelit dinner, unless the intention was to showcase your inherent humble simplicity and attention to the subtleties of life (make sure you chop that parsley real fine), in which case it would work swimmingly.
2 very red tomatoes
(see note above about tomatoes)
2tbsp olive oil
½tsp chilli flakes
or 1 red chilli sliced
4 cloves of garlic
2tbsp finely chopped parsley
or however much you measure for one serving
Parmesan (entirely optional, only if you’re feeling fancy)
This is a base recipe for a single serving; multiply with the number of servings you want when you cook this.
- Boil water in a saucepan. Score the bottoms of the tomatoes with an X mark and drop into the boiling water for 40 seconds. The scoring will let the skin peel off easier.
- Slice the tomatoes in half and remove all the seeds and the more liquid bits till only the fleshy red parts of the tomatoes are left. Peel all the skin away, if you haven’t already.
- Dice into a very fine dice. The sauce will still be chunky, so it’s best make sure it gets diced evenly into tiny bits.
Score the garlic gently. This is to let the oil extract more of the juices of the garlic deep inside it. I usually space the score marks about 2mm apart.
- Heat the oil in a skillet and add the garlic. Once it starts to sizzle, add the chili.
- Once the garlic starts to brown, remove them from the skillet using a fork.
- Add the diced tomato to the oil, salt it and stir. Let this cook for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile cook the pasta the way you usually do. Time the cooking of the pasta in sync with the tomatoes, so the pasta is ready once the tomatoes get their fifteen minutes of cooking.
- If you’re using it, grate the parmesan over the tomato and tip the drained, cooked pasta onto this.
- Stir the pasta and sauce on a high heat until the pasta is completely covered with the cooked tomatoes.
- Mix about half the parsley with the pasta and use the rest to garnish it once served.