Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cooking With Stu: Capellini Marinara

This is better known to most Americans as simply "spaghetti," even though I prefer capellini (angel hair) to spaghetti noodles for this dish.



From back to front, left to right: capellini/angel hair, red wine, olive oil, the cheapest tomato sauce (NOT ketchup, for any Aussies in the audience) you can find, minced garlic, oregano, Italian seasoning, chili garlic Cholula, basil, red pepper flakes, mint and tarragon.

Cholula's usually used in Mexican stuff, but the garlic version adds flavor as well as heat. Mint and tarragon are oddball choices for marinara, too; they're usually used in Greek cooking but they add this sorta fresh flavor to whatever they're put in, and it balances well with the rest of the spices.


First off, get a big pot of water boiling. While that's starting, pour the oil and wine into a large skillet and set it to low heat. After that, put in one heaping tablespoon of minced garlic, 1 part each mint and tarragon, 2 parts each basil, oregano and Italian seasoning, and then Cholula and red pepper flakes to taste. Mix it all around and then let it sit for two minutes or so.

This lets the oil and wine absorb the flavors of the spices, so you'll taste every spice in every bite.


I only made this its own step for two reasons: one, to tell you NOT to buy Ragu or Prego or whatever pricey shit they sell. Hunt's is just fine, and that other stuff has a bunch of sugar in it because they think your taste buds are idiots. Marinara is gross with sugar.

Also, buy yourself a good can opener. The one in the pic cost me $20 five years ago... but it lasted for five years. Before that, I'd blow $5 on a crap can opener every other month. If you're reading this, you aspire to be a chef. Invest in the equipment to do the job right.


Pour the tomato sauce into the skillet. Use a spatula to mix it around until it's got a fairly even consistency everywhere and the olive oil isn't all floating at the top.


Unless you're working in a professional kitchen, the capellini is too long for your pot. Break it in half, like I did in the picture. Also, "stack" it by laying each handful crosswise to the last and it won't clump. Cook it for however long the box says, usually 3-4 minutes.

Some people put olive oil in the pot for this step. Don't. It helps pasta not clump, but if you stir often and don't let it sit, it'll be fine. It also prevents sauce from sticking to the pasta. The whole point of using capellini instead of spaghetti noodles is because there's more surface area to pasta, so you get more sauce in each bite; olive oil-coated pasta defeats that whole point. Besides, it's a waste of olive oil, which isn't cheap. In some dishes, the taste is worth it, but this isn't one of them. Even if it was, you still only toss your pasta with oil at the very end.


If you have Parmesan cheese, you can add it at the end. I usually do, but tonight I didn't, so I shredded some leftover Fontina onto the final product and then sprinkled a little basil on top of that for garnish. Almost any white cheese will work here, hard or soft. Maybe not Brie or Bleu.

But yeah, eat that amazing bullshit up and feel good about it. It's the cheapest healthy thing I make on a regular basis. Red wine and garlic are good for your heart, olive oil's got omega 3s and "good" cholesterol, tomato sauce has antioxidants. All that crap you hear about "Mediterranean" diets or whatever, it's true that it's good for you because they cook with this kinda stuff down yonder.

And the red wine and the olive oil aren't just good for you; they're the linchpin of the whole operation. They make it taste rich, even though you probably won't spend three bucks on a meal that you and a friend won't have leftovers for. Seriously, look again at the ingredients: there's no meat. So hell, even vegans can feel good about this one if they skip the cheese and get vegan pasta. I'm not a vegan, I'm just cheap. And too much red meat's bad for you anyway.

But this is how good this stuff is: I would happily Pepsi Challenge this recipe against anyone's dead cow sauce any day of the week, and twice on Sunday. (I do make a meaty marinara, but the recipe's different than this because meat has to be balanced out in a different manner.) Just try it, it's cheap and quick, and you'll probably say the same thing.

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