Comedian Kerry Godliman did a routine on Live at The Apollo recently that had me in stitches. In it she talks about being an exasperated mother, shopping at the supermarket with difficult children who claim that they prefer one pasta shape to another. It’s such an accurate observation and so brilliantly and hilariously acted out (especially when she looks up to challenge the shopper who must be observing the confrontation from afar). It’s HERE (this link expires tomorrow at 10:30pm, so watch it NOW – scroll to 16:40 for the bit I’m talking about).
But while I empathise with her plight (my ‘kids’ are 16, 19 and 20 but still claim to prefer bows to shells), I’ve got to admit that I stand with them when it comes to there being an overall victor, because I do prefer one pasta shapes to others, and I’m proud to say that spaghetti really is the best and that’s that.
I could eat a plate of perfectly cooked spaghetti with a little butter or olive oil and some seasoning and nothing else. I could eat it every day, twice a day. But it does have to be cooked properly and that means the ‘are you sure this doesn’t need a little bit longer?’-side of al dente.
If that’s a bit too simple for your palette and doesn’t feel quite ‘dinner’ enough then do this recipe. It’s a standard go-to meal that takes minutes and has very few ingredients. So few that it’s the sort of thing you can throw together when you’re away from home in an Air BnB in Edinburgh (as I was when I made, photographed and enjoyed the plate pictured above) that doesn’t have anything in it’s cupboards apart from salt and pepper and oil, and you want to cook without the hassle of having a load of half-finished ingredients leftover. You’ll need to buy 5 items and they’re all the sorts of things you could easily get in a small shop.
Spaghetti With Garlic, Chilli, Parsley and Raw Tomato
1/2 a packet of dried spaghetti
lots of extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
1 punnet cherry tomatoes (halved or quartered)
1 bunch parsley (flat leafed or curly – I prefer curly, it’s stronger)
salt and pepper
Bring a big pan of well-salted water to the boil, and I mean well-salted. I remember watching Delia once grind a few twists from a salt mill into a pan containing what must have been about 4 litres of water. Utterly pointless. It wouldn’t have made any discernible difference. There’s a saying that the water you boil pasta in should be as salty as the Mediterranean, so for a large pan you’ll want two or three dessertspoons of salt. At least. Maybe more.
When the pan is boiling hard drop the pasta in, get it under the water and give it a few good stirs every now and then for the first few minutes to make sure it’s not sticking and not clumping together at all.
Right, now you’ve got about 8 minutes to do the rest so get a move on.
In a cold large shallow pan pour a lot of oil (so put in as much as you think, and then put some more in), then add the garlic and the chilli and then put it over a medium heat. You can’t burn the garlic or everything will be horrible (not just this meal, but everything everywhere). As the heat comes up underneath, the chilli and garlic will start to sizzle and as soon as they do drop the heat really low.
Chop the tomatoes and the parsley and mix them together.
Keep an eye on the garlic and as soon as it starts to go pale gold throw in the raw tomato and parsley. It’ll cool everything down so you can afford to bring the heat up higher but only for a minute or so, and keep it all moving by shaking the pan or stirring. The water in the tomato will emulsify with the oil making a silky garlicky sauce. Then turn off the heat.
The pasta should now be nearly done. Test it. It really does want to be very al dente, because it’ll continue to cook when it’s out of the water and in the sauce.
Drain it really quickly and immediately pour it into the pan with the tomatoes so that you retain a fair amount of the pasta water as it clings to the spaghetti. Shake and stir, plop it onto plates, add more parsley and black pepper and eat straight away.
IMPORTANT: This sauce will NOT work with pasta shells, pasta bows, tubes, twists, dinosaur shapes, barbie shapes or any other shape. Despite what Kerry says. Except Tagliatelle, or linguine. But spaghetti is best.