During a backpacking trip through Europe seven years ago, I stayed in the homes of people who I had met through hospitality exchange websites in order to reserve most of my budget for splurges: namely, food. I come from a sophisticated breed of gluttony, and my strongest childhood memories are defined by the meals that augmented them.
So, how could I do Europe without properly tasting it? I was very selective about what I treated myself to. In Brussels, my money went to mussels and Chimay; in Paris, to Chablis, Escargot and Brie; in Amsterdamâ¦ well, we’ll keep that in Amsterdam. In Rome, Mozzarella di Buffalo was my focal point. Perugian chocolate and Montefalco wine sucked up their share of my dwindling funds.
When it came to food, Italy was a whole other animal. In other countries, while their native cuisines dominated the restaurant scene, there were other options. You could find Chinese take-out in France, or a Falaffel joint in Holland. In Italy, there is only Italian food. Up to that point, I had been preparing one elaborate meal (usually a cuisine that they couldn’t find locally) for each of my hosts.
I offered to cook a meal for Andrea, a filmmaker whose couch I would be crashing on in Rome. After my long day of exploring the inexhaustible outdoor museum of a city, I found that even the markets carried only indigenous foods. Although I was elated with the ingredients I had at my disposal and quite confident in my grasp of Italian cuisine, I cringed at the thought of cooking Italian for an Italian. But I stuck with what I knew, cooked my heart out and any anxiety I had was quelled by his mix of silence and contented groans.
How do you know how to cook like that? he asked after he’d practically licked the plate.
I’m a born and bred New Yorker, I replied. I’ve been eating good Italian food since I was in the womb.
Although Italian food has, perhaps, the farthest global reach of any country’s cuisine (you’d be hard pressed to find a spot on the globe where you can’t find pizza or pasta), it is rare to find authentic Italian on this here peninsula. If you want good Italian, you’re going to have to make it yourself. I hang a lot of my cooking pride in the âItalian’ section of repertoire. The reason I am able to do this is simply because I have mastered the marinara. And now you can, too.
10 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with the heel of your knife
1 large white onion, finely diced
¾ cup olive oil
2 large cans (28 oz. or 800g.) of Divella whole peeled tomatoes, drained
2 cans (14 oz. or 400 g.) of Hunts Tomato Sauce
4-5 Tbsp. Macrocom Spaghetti Seasoning Mix (or any Italian seasoning blend, which should contain thyme, marjoram, basil, oregano and rosemary)
2 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes (1 Tbsp. if you’re a wuss)
8-10 fresh basil leaves (Shinsaegae E-Mart)
Salt and Pepper
A large pot, a wooden spoon, an apron (or crappy old t-shirt), a good glass of Chianti (or bottle, if you’re of my own breed) and Paul Simon’s âGraceland‘ album (I swear, my sauce tastes better if I listen to this album while cooking it).
In a large pot, heat the garlic and onions in the olive oil on a medium flame, stirring constantly until slightly brown. Pluck each tomato from the can, pulverize it with your hand and toss it in (my favorite part!). Let the tomatoes simmer for a few minutes. Add the canned tomato sauce, spices, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Put the flame on low and cover the pot, giving the sauce a good stir every five minutes. Cook for 25-30 minutes.
What to do with the sauce:
-Sautée some mushrooms, spinach and diced chicken breast and toss it all over some pasta (I recommend penne or ziti).
-Add ½ cup of heavy cream (NOT SWEET) for a pink sauce. If you do this, overshoot the amount of spices.
-If you have an oven (which you should â a large toaster oven only costs about 60,000 won on Gmarket.com), bread and fry some chicken cutlets (or sliced eggplant), place them in a baking pan, smother with sauce and shredded mozzarella and bake on 150 degrees C for 12-15 minutes.
-Put a bit of shredded mozzarella between two tortillas, then evenly spread sliced black olives, sautéed sliced mushrooms and genoa salami (Costco) on top. Cover with a thin layer of sauce and more shredded cheese and bake on 150 degrees C for 8-10 minutes. For this, a proper pizza cutter (the most fun cooking utensil EVER) will come in handy.
You can read more from Jen here.