By David Mattson
So you’ve decided it’d be a good idea to find yourself a lady friend. Although we know that guys and girls can’t be just friends, you think you know the perfect way to make yourself the man of her dreams: Bring her out on the town. Either this plan leaves you with said lady and a few pennies to your name or self-destructs after the third time around at Taco Bell. There’s another way. If you can throw together a homemade meal, she’ll appreciate your efforts and you’ll still be able to pay the electric bill.
One of the mainstays for lunch and dinners in the western hemisphere, you can’t go wrong with spaghetti. It can be dressed up with dim lights and mood music or kept casual as a quick meal before the night begins. While the noodles are basic, the sauce that accompanies them can make you legendary. Here’s what you’ll need:
Spaghetti: $0.80 / 16oz box (This box will make enough for at least 4 meals)
Tomatoes: $9.80 / 20 Plum Roma Tomatoes
Olive Oil: $4.00 / 2 tablespoons + 2 cups extra virgin olive oil
Basil: $3.35 / 8 + 10 fresh basil leaves
Unsalted Butter: $0.25 / 2 Tablespoons
Salt, Black Pepper: You’ll probably already have this. If not, ask the neighbors
Cheese: $0.65 / ½ cup Parmesan cheese
Garlic: $.50 / head (about 8 cloves)
$19.35 for 4 servings (All prices were taken from the Giant supermarket price catalog)
To make the spaghetti, follow the directions on the box or take a look here (the actual cooking doesn’t take place until after the sauce has started.)
For the topping, I’ve adapted an adaption of a recipe used by Scarpetta in NYC for its spaghetti. The sauce can be made ahead of time and either refrigerated if you expect to use it within a few days or frozen.
20 ripe tomatoes (preferably plum tomatoes)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ounce ground Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup)
6 to 8 fresh basil leaves, well washed and dried, stacked and rolled into a cylinder and sliced thinly crosswise into a chiffonade
1 pound spaghetti
For the Basil-Garlic Oil:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6-8 whole cloves garlic
10 whole fresh basil leaves
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have a large bowl of ice water nearby. Cut a small X on the bottom of each tomato. Ease the tomatoes (one at a time) into the pot and boil for about 15 seconds, then promptly move them to the waiting ice water. Pull off the skin with the tip of a paring knife. If the skin sticks, try a vegetable peeler using a gentle sawing motion. Cut the tomatoes in half and use a finger to flick out the seeds.
2. In a wide pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat until quite hot. Add the tomatoes and season lightly with the salt and pepper. (Not too much all at once.) Let the tomatoes cook for a few minutes to soften. Then, using a potato masher, chop the tomatoes finely. Cook the tomatoes for 20 to 25 minutes, until tender and the sauce has thickened.
3. While the tomatoes are cooking, make the basil-garlic oil. Heat a small saucepan over low heat with 1/4 cup olive oil, garlic cloves, and basil leaves. Keep the heat on low to allow the ingredients to warm slowly and release their flavors. When the garlic is lightly browned, turn heat off and let cool for 10 minutes. The longer you let the oil sit, the more infused the oil. Strain the oil, discarding the solids.
4. To cook the spaghetti, bring a large pot of amply salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti until just shy of al dente and drain, reserve a little of the pasta cooking water.
About this vigorously. Also, don’t smile. It makes you unattractive
Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and cook over medium-high heat, gently tossing the pasta and the sauce together with a couple of wooden spoons and a lot of exaggerated movement (you can even shake the pan) until the pasta is just tender and the sauce looks cohesive. Remove the pan from the heat and toss the butter, basil and cheese with the pasta in the same manner (the pasta should take on an orange hue). Drizzle with just a bit of the basil-garlic oil on each plate.
In just under 30 minutes (about the same amount of time it takes for you to get to a sit down restaurant and receive the entrée, you can have a meal made with your own hand. In addition, you’ll be on more comfortable turf and will have more fun.