Little could be more apparent than this: if you want an amazing meal, you have to have awesome ingredients. It seems obvious, but I believe this has been the steepest part of the good food learning curve for us in this country. After getting used to years of government subsidized crap we’ve become completely disassociated from the true cost of good products.
Take for example this criticism to the Neapolitan Pizza served at Lago Winery in Jamestown, PA: “We ordered the margarita (sic) pizza. Had barely any sauce, you could not even tell they put any cheese. Basically a 10 inch baked piece of dough for $10.00. What a disappointment.”
I guarantee the author of this review has no idea regarding the imported flour Lago gets from Italy, nor does he probably know much about the tradition of Neapolitan pies or what basically amounts to purity laws surrounding the making of this traditional food. To put it simply, this is not McDominHut King.
Doug Magnone of Magnone Trattoria and Market in Riverside, CA puts it best: “The complexity of Italian food is in its simplicity.”
Even though I thought these were lessons I’d already learned, I had an opportunity lately to relearn them even more thoroughly. My friend Josh in Spokane knows more about food than most people I’ve met cooking professionally. His cookbook library is the stuff of wet dreams.
When he suggested I came over to his place sometime and we cook something together, I was looking forward to learning something new.
At first when I arrived and he was talking about making spaghetti I was a little let down. I already make what I consider to be a very good sauce. However, as he explained to me the process… and mentioned the sauce cooking for four hours, my interest was again piqued.
Going back to the quality of ingredients, Josh had two cans of tomatoes. You can see them in the picture at the head of the article. The big can on the left is a very respectable domestic product of Italian tomatoes. The smaller can on the right is imported from Italy and three times the price.
We, of course, tested a tomato from each can. First we tried the domestic. It was very good. I never thought before, “I could sit down with a bowl of these, sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and have a nice meal.” Then we tried the import. The import had an infinitely more dense flavor… and was markedly less sweet. I swear, you could taste the Italian soil in those imported tomatoes.
On to cooking. Putting one cup of fancy Olive Oil into a heavy cloisonné sauce pan, we heated it up slowly, then added exactly nine cloves of fresh garlic. I’d never worked with fresh garlic before. These bulbs were from a local farmer’s market. They were fat, smooth, and beautiful. They were also noticeably easier to peel than typical dried garlic.
We simmered the garlic until it started to develop brown streaks, about ten minutes. Then we added both cans of tomato, which Josh had crushed by hand.
After that, we kicked back on the couch to watch some food porn for four hours, interrupted by flipping through cookbooks and issues of Lucky Peach and watching the transformation of the sauce.
As you look at the next three pictures taken over the course of the cooking time, notice how the sauce homogenizes. As it cooks down it thickens and comes together. The garlic and tomatoes basically dissolve.
At first you can see the oil and tomatoes are completely separated.
After a couple of hours the oil is sitting on top.
And as we come into four hours of cooking everything has come together. Everything was just simmered. The sauce was disturbed very little over the cook time.
After four hours of cooking down, the sauce was thick and almost creamy. Josh then took the sauce, added it to freshly cooked noodles, and tossed it in a wok with a low heat. After that he added Romano Cheese and Butter, and tossed it again.
This not only made sure the noodles were evenly covered in sauce, it also packed air into the sauce making the dish lighter and more flavorful.
Served with a sprinkle more cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, and a friend’s Home-Cured Chorizo. It was an amazing and delightful dish. Simple, yes, and with the right ingredients, care, and time, it was beautiful. We also added another ingredient common in Italian food, the love and companionship of good friends.