By Wolfgang Puck
Just because you’re all dressed up for a big event, it doesn’t mean that you’re craving the culinary equivalent of a tuxedo or designer dress. Often, the exact opposite is true.
Take, for example, the annual Academy Awards, which took place recently. Since 1994, my Wolfgang Puck Catering team has prepared the food for the big Governors Ball party, and we get to feed some 1,600 movie stars and other Hollywood movers and shakers as they stream in immediately following the big event.
Of course, on this most glittering of nights, we want to offer some of the most elegant foods. The Champagne flows, there’s plenty of caviar, shrimp, lobster and black truffles.
But what do all the beautiful people ask for when they come up to greet me? They want comfort food, of course. That’s why we make sure always to have dishes like chicken pot pie and my gourmet macaroni and cheese, not to mention freshly baked pizza and all sorts of other delicious, soothing treats.
Though it may be a little bit difficult and messy for them to enjoy standing up, I’m sure the attendees would also love a great plate of spaghetti if we were to offer up that option.
Fortunately, if you watched the Oscars at home, it would have been incredibly easy to make delicious spaghetti yourself, and I’m happy to share my simple secrets to preparing the dish perfectly.
I like to base the sauce on the Italian variety of canned tomatoes known as San Marzano, which have the most intense tomato flavor. I also use fresh herbs – both rosemary sprigs and thin julienne strips of basil – to add their wonderful flavor and fragrance. A touch red pepper flakes contributes another delicious dimension to the sauce, if you don’t mind just the slightest hint of spiciness.
As you’ll see in the recipe instructions, I also teach you how to present the food simply but beautifully. After all, we eat with our eyes before the food ever reaches our mouths. With the help of a long, two-pronged fork, you can twirl up the pasta strands neatly and arrange little mounds on each serving plate, ready to garnish with fresh herbs. The result is an award-worthy plate full of food.
Spaghetti with quick marinara sauce
- 3/4 cup (185 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 small yellow onions, finely chopped, about 1 cup (250 mL)
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and chopped
- 2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 2 cans, 28 ounces (794 g) whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano tomatoes
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 16 ounces (500 g) dried spaghetti
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
- Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
Heat a heavy large saucepot over high heat. Add about half the olive oil. As soon as the oil is hot enough to flow freely, add the onion and garlic, reduce the heat to medium-low, and saute until tender and translucent but not yet browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the large rosemary sprigs and red pepper flakes; saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes longer.
Add the tomatoes and their juices, breaking up the tomatoes with a sturdy spoon or spatula. Adjust the heat so the sauce simmers gently. Cook until slightly thickened, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil and season generously with salt. When the sauce is finished, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, tender but still slightly chewy, following the manufacturer’s suggested cooking time, about 8 minutes.
Remove the rosemary sprigs from the sauce and reduce the heat under the sauce to low. Drain the pasta in a colander then pour it into a bowl. Sprinkle in the Parmesan and remaining olive oil, and toss to combine.
With a pronged carving fork, twirl up a coil of pasta and slip it onto a serving plate. Depending on the size of the coil, add another to the plate in the same way; repeat with other servings. Spoon the sauce over the pasta, and garnish with Parmesan and fresh basil. Serve immediately.
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