Since I have more time on my hands than I've had in a while (I'm taking a break from daily news to teach high school English) and people seem to enjoy my cooking, I think I'll start a weekly series of recipes and general tips for cooking (and eating) healthy here in Cairo. If you try one of my recipes, send me a picture and let me know how it goes!
Unless it's a special occasion, I generally cook with whatever happens to be in the kitchen, and consequently most of my recipes are made up on the spot and can handle a significant amount of modification. Most of my dishes are very Italian-inspired, as I learned much of my cooking during the four years I spent in Rome.
I also like to listen to good music while I'm cooking, so you'll find a playlist suggestion with each recipe :)
Spaghetti with zucchini in red sauce
Approx. time: 50min (20min prep, 30min cook)
Makes two servings
Suggested playlist: Oldies! Go for Tom Jones or The Beach Boys
- Olive oil (approx. 2-3 tablespoons)
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 small zucchini, split lengthwise and sliced
- 3 medium tomatoes, diced
- Dash salt
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
- Dash vodka or red wine (optional)
- Freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional)
The keys to great pasta are simplicity and timing. This dish is simple and delicious, highlighting the flavors of the zucchini and tomato. True Italian dishes aim to highlight one or two flavors rather than throwing every posible spice into the dish (i.e. "Italian seasoning").
First, get your ingredients ready. Heat some of the olive oil in a pan over medium-low heat (for this type of sauce, I prefer to use a shallow pan rather than a sauce pan). Add onion and garlic and sauté 2-3 minutes, or until soft. Add zucchini and sauté another 2-3 minutes, then add tomatoes. At this point you can add a dash of vodka or red wine to the pan if you like (while the majority of the alcohol will cook off, some of it remains, so if you don't drink alcohol for religious reasons you probably want to leave this out; the sauce will still be great without it!).
Add just a dash of salt. You may be tempted to add more, but trust me on this one: first, most of us eat too much salt as it is. Second, once your taste buds get used to not being overwhelmed with salt, your food tastes SO much better.
Turn the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the pan.
While your sauce is simmering, put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta, adding a dash of salt to the water. If you're REALLY good, you can even use this time to clean up your prep dishes!
If you want a lighter sauce, you can end the recipe here. Tonight, however, I was in the mood for something a bit heavier, so I added about a tablespoon of tomato paste (I try to use kinds without added salt when possible) and another dash of olive oil and let my sauce continue to simmer.
Once the water boils, add your pasta. I used about 1/3 of a 500g box of spaghetti, which makes about two regular servings. Be careful not to overcook the pasta. I'll say it again: DO NOT overcook the pasta. Good pasta should not be a sloppy, soggy mass that sticks together or falls to pieces. Good pasta should be cooked al dente, an Italian phrase that literally means 'to the teeth.' (If you like your pasta soggy that's your choice, but try it my way once!)
By the time your pasta is ready, your sauce should be ready as well.
Add a bit of freshly grated parmesan on top (if you have it), and enjoy! :)
Notes: The onion can be a bit overpowering in this dish, especially as Egyptian onions seem to be particularly strong. I made a very similar sauce last night but omitted the onion and added another clove of garlic and a dash of cooking cream instead.
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