As the famous saying goes Many roads lead to Rome – this is true for cooking. My mom had a natural gift in the kitchen and she never used recipes from books. She memorized some recipes inherited from her mom and invented some of her own while I learned cooking by following recipes from books or other sources.
When I started cooking, I did not dare to improvise. I simply followed a recipe to the letter, no substitutions no improvements. I started with my mom’s old recipe of chicken barbeque coz it was familiar, has simple list of ingredients and easy cooking method. And it worked! This first success story encouraged me to be more experimental.
In the mean time I keep doing my desk research. It’s not just on cooking but also on the details of the ingredients, methods, cooking tips from different references plus my private cooking course with famous Chefs on TV.
After watching one of Rachel Ray’s 30 Minutes cooking on TV, I was inspired to try cooking pasta. I bought one of Periplus Mini Cookbooks named Classic & Essential Pasta. From this book plus the results of my research, I learned some important Pasta Secrets.
There are huge number of pasta varieties and shapes, and each has a specific type of sauce as its partner. Pasta may be dried or fresh, and dried pasta made in Italy is considered to be the best. Spaghetti and macaroni are perhaps the most widely available pasta shapes but there are hundreds of others including numerous flat sheets, noodles and small shapes. Most shapes can be obtained in a variety of sizes and many are sold with both smooth and ribbed surfaces. Common sense will tell you that some shapes are suited to particular purposes. To make a dish which pasta is layered with a sauce, large flat shapes such as lasagna are an obvious choice. However, even when recipes associate particular shapes with certain sauces, it is still up to you whether or not to follow the convention.
My Pasta Experiment
To start my pasta experiment, I follow recipes in Classic Essential Pasta as my guide. Spaghetti Bolognese was my first trial. Looking at the list of the ingredients for the sauce (parsley, olive oil, garlic, onion, carrot, celery stick, mince beef, beef stock, red wines, canned crushed tomatoes, sugar, and parmesan cheese), I realized that this time I could not follow the recipe to the letter. My family do not like carrots, celery stick and parsley so I skipped them. I did not have canned tomatoes in stock so I used fresh ones. I started to improvise the recipes. I believe that recipes are only a guide, a skeletal framework to be fleshed out according to your nature and desire.
After some trials with different versions of Spaghetti Bolognese, I must confess that I ended up using the ready-to-use spaghetti sauce which sold in a glass jar. There are many brands of spaghetti sauce in the market and I had to try several different brands to come to a conclusion which brand gives the best mix to my spaghetti Bolognese customized recipe.
One day I went to a café with my youngest daughter and we saw an intriguing dish on the Menu: Spaghetti Tuna Cabe Rawit literally means Spaghetti Tuna Bird’s Eye Chili. This must be a fusion type of spaghetti. As chili lovers, we definitely loved to try this so we ordered. It turned out to be a delicious spaghetti for our Indonesian taste-bud. I ate the spaghetti slowly trying to identify what ingredients they used. Of course there were tuna and chili but I also could feel the taste of button mushroom, garlic, salt & pepper.
The next day, I tried out the Spaghetti Tuna using my own imagination recipe. It turned out to be more delicious than the one I ate in the café. My daughter confirmed this too and the secret was because it was cooked with LOVE :-).
I name this recipe SPAGHETTI TUNA HOT FUSION
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled & chopped
- 3 bird’s eye chilies (the red ones)
- 1 tablespoon of chili sauce
- 100 gram button mushroom, sliced finely including the stem
- 100 gram of canned tuna flakes in water, drained the water
- 1-2 teaspoon lime juice
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
- 250 gram dried spaghetti
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- Coriander leaves and grated parmesan cheese
To cook perfect pasta, I follow the Secret of Cooking Pasta which I learned from the book Classic and Essential Pasta by Periplus Mini Cookbooks as follows:
- Put the spaghetti in a very large pot.
- Allow at least 2 liters of water for every 250gram of spaghetti – this gives plenty of room for the pasta to move and expand and prevents the pasta clumping together.
- Bring the water to a rapid boil (cover the pot with a lid to make it come to a boil faster) then add the spaghetti.
- Some people like to add a little oil to the pot, but plenty of water will prevent the pasta sticking.
- Add salt if you like.
- Give it a quick stir to distribute it evenly through the water and bring back to the boil.
- You can use the times given on the pack as a guide but the only way to really know if the pasta is ready is to taste it.
- Lift a small piece of spaghetti from the pot, cool it slightly, then bite. The spaghetti should be just tender, with no raw taste but certainly not soft and gluggy. This is known as ‘al dente’ the correct way to serve pasta.
- Then drain the cooked spaghetti in a colander.
- Carefully wipe the mushroom with a damp paper towel to remove any grit.
- Slice the whole mushroom finely including the stem.
- Heat the EVOO in a heavy-based frying pan.
- Cook the garlic and chilies over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it is fragrant.
- Add the tuna flakes which have been drained from the water, then add the mushroom and stir occasionally for about 6 minutes
- Add the lime juice to the pan
- Add the chili sauce
- Add the cooked spaghetti and stir to mix well with the other ingredients for about 5 minutes
- Season to taste with salt and pepper
Serve immediately in warm pasta serving dish and garnish with fresh coriander leaves and parmesan cheese (if liked)..