The Right Coast

April 18, 2004
Tom's Putanesca
By Tom Smith

Sometimes you're in the mood to make a big, sloppy pasta dish you can eat until you can't move. This one works well for that. And it's so easy, even a guy can do it.

Take a big skillet, pot thing and heat some high quality olive oil until nice and hot. How hot? I don't know. Really hot. Not burning, not smoking, but hot. How much? Maybe 2 or three tablespoons. Enough so the garlic floats.

Chop up a bunch of garlic. How much? Depends on you. I don't know. A lot. Last time I made it I used a whole head, and nobody seemed to think it was too much. Chop the garlic coarsely, not finely! Use the flat of your knife to smash the garlic, peel it and chop it. Fry it until it starts to brown.

Now add 1 can of anchovies. You can chop them first, but it's not necessary. I like the anchovies to mostly dissolve in the oil. Some people add the oil from the anchovy can, but I don't recommend it. If you really like anchovies, add 2 cans.

Now it's decision time. If you like savory, blended flavors, it's time to add the capers. I just throw in a whole bottle of the fat film cannister sized bottle after draining it (or not). Now add plenty of red pepper flakes. It gets hotter as it cooks, so consider your audience.

Add two big (28 oz.) cans of whole or recipie cut tomatoes (I like Progresso). Some people drain and even squeeze them toget a less soupy sauce. I think it's good soupy. I drain some, then throw them in. Now let that puppy cook for a while, stirring and tasting frequently.

Did I mention you should have put on by now a big pot of water for the pasta? You should have. This recipie is for two 1 pound packages of spaghetti. I assume you have a family to feed and/or can eat an astonishing amount of food. You can put in the pasta now. It will take 10-14 minutes or so. All that pendantic stuff about using plenty of water seems to be true. Go to Williams-Sonoma and put up with the snotty clerk who asks you "Is price an issue?" and buy the biggest, best pot you can afford.

On the parsley, there are two ways to go. You can just chop up a bunch really coarsely and throw it in and let it cook a bit before serving. Alternatively, if you're going for more of a fresh taste, chop it a little more carefully (i.e. no big stems) and stir it in just a minute before serving. The former is safer and delicious. The latter is really good, but you have to catch it right. If you are going the fresher route, you might also want to add the capers a little before the parsley, rather than at the beginning into the hot oil. Personally, I like the way the caper flavor permeates things if you add it earlier, but hey, it's your dinner.

Drain your pasta. Personally, I think the most important thing you can do is get the pasta just al dente, which we all know is tricky. This is complicated by the fact that people's tastes as to how cooked pasta should be, vary considerably. Some people like it raw, others way overcooked. In any event, a little oil in the pasta water will help prevent it from sticking, and cold water to rinse it will arrest the cooking process. This is a very salty dish already, so I would not add salt to the pasta water.

Anyway, plop the drained pasta into a big platter, pour the sauce on top, use a pasta fork to mix it up a bit, start the movie and dig in. You can grate some Parmasean cheese on top if you want, but it's not necessary. This is a rather rich sauce as is.

For wine, a good chianti works. To find a good chianti, go to the store and buy the $20 one. The market knows. Or a pinot from the US of A.

Best of all, this meal is Atkins-friendly and contains no calories whatever!