Cheat’s Italian Part One – Spaghetti

I’ve had some disgusting meals recently and many of them have been presented, in some for or other, under the label of “Italian cuisine”. Yet real Italian food bears no resemblance to the messes I have been offered. A cooking culture whose prime interest is in fresh ingredients prepared simply should inspire quick and lively meals. “Let’s grab an Italian tonight” is not a phrase that should send us running to the chilled ready-meals, the freezer or the local take-away. Yet this is precisely what I’ve experienced in the form of heat and serve pasta sauces, frozen lasagna and (shudder) dominos pizza. In response, I’ve decided on a three part set of cheaters’ Italian recipes. While not straight out of a Neapolitan cookbook, these recipes are about fresh ingredients and are quick enough to prepare in the middle of the week.

Here are two favourite spaghetti sauce recipes. (There really is no excuse to reach for a bottle of red slop with the odd onion or mushroom slice thrown in.) The most important ingredient here is fresh basil, so buy a live plant and keep it on your window sill. With water only, it will last a month or two.

Firstly, please cook your pasta properly. Heat the water to a rolling boil and add a little salt. Cook the pasta only until it is just cooked through – ‘al dente‘ if you want to pretend that you speak Italian. I often find that a minute less than the guide cooking time is a good way to go for UK packs.

LEMON BASIL SPAGHETTI

While your pasta is cooking, mix
a nob of butter
100 mls cream
1 tablespoon of lemon juice

in a small saucepan over low heat. (Don’t be tempted to add more lemon juice or it will sour and curdle – I tried it.) Stir until combined.
Drain you pasta but do not rinse, and leave a few tablespoons of cooking liquid sloshing around the bottom of the pan. Pour over the lemon mixture and add
the grated zest of 2 lemons
(Only take the yellow part of the lemon, as the white pith is bitter.)
Toss the pasta around and once it has cooled a little add
grated nutmeg
a handful of torn basil leaves
a handful of grated Parmesan.

(If you add the Parmesan while the pan is too hot, it will turn to a sticky glue on the bottom.)
Toss again and serve with extra basil and Parmesan scattered on top.

TOMATO BASIL SPAGHETTI

While the pasta is cooking, rub
a few hundred grams of small or cherry tomatoes in
olive oil.
Place on a baking tray with short sides under a hot grill. Give the tray a little shake after two minutes so that the tomatoes grill evenly. Once the tomatoes have split, released some juice and turned a little brown on the edges, remove from the oven.
Pour the tomatoes and the juices over the drained pasta. Add
another slosh of olive oil
a generous handful of fresh torn basil leaves
a handful of Parmesan.

Toss and serve.

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