What is the secret ingredient you add to your homemade spaghetti sauce that makes it over-the-top delicious?

What is the secret ingredient you add to your homemade spaghetti sauce that makes it over-the-top delicious?

Listen bud. I am an Italian born and bred. Have travelled the world and eaten most of the things that did not move (and also some of the ones that did move too slowly).

Spaghetti sauce is like Santa Claus. It does not exist. Period.

If you ask to an Italian such a question, you get an answer like “Yes, but which spaghetti sauce are you referring to?”.

Because there is no universal spaghetti sauce. What people in the US calls spaghetti sauce is (from what I read around the web) a hodgepodge of family legacies throwing everything but the kitchen sink inside and calling it “traditional recipe”.

What is most similar in the Italian cuisine to American “spaghetti sauce” is the “red” variation of the “Ragù alla Bolognese” sauce. Red means with tomatoes, while one of the most credited traditional recipes calls for no tomato inside.

After this long-ish preamble, the “secret ingredient” that turns my sauce in an amazing sauce is like Santa Claus too - it does not exist. Every pasta sauce is different, so every one of them (and there are many)has its secret ingredient(s).

But what I CAN tell you, which applies to every pasta sauce in the world, bar none, is how to prepare it correctly. This is the base technique - when you are a pro chef you might do it differently, but first stick to basics.

Applying these tricks will make your pasta uber-delicious (and it applies to every kind of sauce).

Pasta should be cooked in boiling water with a little spoon of salt for every person eating. The more water there is, the better it is, especially if you are not a pro pasta chef. You should allow for 120 grams of dry pasta (that is, the one you find in packets in the supermarket and grocery stores) for each person.

Choose a good quality of pasta. Check thoroughly if the pasta is made only with durum wheat. Avoid any other, because if not it would get too soft and spongy (and your Italian friends will try to kill you for that. With a spoon to make you suffer more).

Cook the pasta inside the boiling water only. Sauce must be prepared on the side, and must be proportionate to the pasta - not too much, not too little.

Taste the pasta for the “sweet spot” of cooking. It is ready only when it feels soft on the outside, but with an inner more solid core. This is called “al dente” (at the tooth), and it is the right way to have it cooked, at least from an Italian perspective.

Then, remove all water with a colander, serve it on a large bowl, cover it with the sauce, mix thoroughly and then serve.

If you have made it to here, now we come to the area whereI share you my secrets. Ready?

  1. When pasta is cooking, take a couple spoons of your sauce and mix them to the boiling water. Pasta will become more “tied” to the sauce afterwards, when served
  2. When removing water from pasta with the colander, leave a lil bit of water inside the pasta itself. Then, instead of serving it right away, put it back in the pot where you have cooked it, cover it with sauce, and put it back on the fire for a quick warm up, mixing it with a wooden spoon. This is called “spadellare” (pan-ning it). At this stage, it is often good to add a bit of uncooked virgin olive oil on it
  3. The bowl you serve the pasta it should be warmed up before putting pasta in it. The best way to do this is pouringinto it the boiling water used for cooking the pasta, through the colander, while you apply technique #2 above
  4. Several pasta recipes profit from adding the right freshly grated cheese over them. The most used are Parmigiano, Grana and Pecorino. Remember that there are exceptions to this rule: mainly, every sauce which is fish-based

Hope this helps you preparing a good pasta. Your Italian friends will love you after this!

PS: as I have received overwhelming comments and written pleas about giving you my recipe of my special secret pasta sauce, I have decided to concede and give you - my gentle readers - one that I use and always gets top appreciation from my ”clients”. Ready?

This is a variation of the “amatriciana” - that is, with the so-called “guanciale”. The guanciale is pork cheek, and is vaguely similar to bacon - however it is not. It can be substituted with bacon - if so, choose the non-smoked one.

You have to take two different pans to prepare the sauce. In the small one, you put the bacon, cut in tiny little dices, and put it on a low fire. The fat in the bacon will melt, and the bacon will become crunchy. On a separate, larger pan you put virgin olive oil and let it warm up a bit, and then add an onion sliced in tiny slices. Let it simmer a bit, helping yourself with a wooden spoon, and then add a bit of white wine, to let the onions get softer and sweeter, and after a while, when the wine is gone, add tomato puree as necessary, a couple unbroken chili peppers , and the content of the small pan, plus salt.

On a separate fire, you have put the water on, like I have described above, and you cook the pasta. The best kind of pasta for this recipe is bucatini, but spaghetti are amazing as well. As the pasta is cooking, continue to mix the sauce: at the end of the cooking, it should have taken a chunkier texture. If you feel a bit adventurous, put some crushed capers inside the sauce, so they blend with the rest.

When the pasta is cooked, remove the water with a colander and put it inside the pan on the fire, and pan-fry it with the sauce for a couple minutes, so it becomes “tight” with the sauce. When you have finished, pour some fresh raw olive oil over it, and use some grated Pecorino cheese, possibly seasoned.

Eat it immediately, as bucatini tend to become cold very quickly.

Buon appetito!

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