Freelance writer from the northeast coast of England with a fondness for vegan food and punk rock.
In 1986, there was a popular TV ad here in the UK for Yellow Pages that featured a young couple decorating their new home. The guy checks addresses in the Yellow Pages, looking for a pizza takeaway that is nearby, and he finds one just around the corner. As he is about to leave for the takeaway, he checks with his partner. “Are you sure that’s what you want?” he says. She nods.
We are all intrigued, wondering what it could be that she has in mind. We find out soon enough when he orders the pizzas: one ham and mushroom, and one tuna fish and banana. The takeaway staff are taken aback by this unusual order, but they make the pizza. When the guy gets home, he hands his partner her pizza. As she turns we see she is heavily pregnant, and all is explained.
Yellow Pages TV Ad, 1986
After seeing this ad, the restaurant I worked at put that very pizza topping on the menu (as did several others). There were no takers, which is hardly surprising given the incompatible combination of sweet and fishy. Some things just weren’t meant to be together.
As we cook food every day, year on year, we develop an inkling for what flavour combinations will go well together, and which ones won’t, such as the pizza topping above. So, for this article, I have posted recipes for two well known pasta sauces, followed by a few compatible additions that will transform them into different dishes completely. I have listed the original sauces and the additions to create four different recipes.
Recipe 1: Spaghetti With Oil, Chilli and Garlic
In Sarah Brown's Vegetarian Cookbook, the author describes this combination of ingredients as the simplest pasta sauce ever. I’d go along with that; what could be easier than four ingredients thrown together in a pan?
Looking for pasta recipes online one day, I learned that it is almost a tradition in Italy for revellers to prepare this simple sauce as a supper dish after a night out. It might pay them to make double the amount and save some for the following morning, because the same dish is purported to be a hangover cure as well. Its renown as a late-night supper dish is such, some refer to it as midnight spaghetti.
Of course, after I’d learned that this dish was eaten as a nightcap, I began making it myself after a night out, much to the irritation of the smoke alarm on the landing. I immediately saw the appeal of spaghetti aglio e olio, as they say in Italy. It is simple to prepare, of course, and the flavours intermingle deliciously. But the big appeal to this hungry Horace after a night out is that it is a substantial meal. I twisted huge tangles of spaghetti onto my fork, which I devoured with great gusto.
Here is a recipe for two generous portions of spaghetti aglio e olio.
- 7 ounces (200 grams) dry weight spaghetti, cooked
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced (or more)
- 1 tablespoon chilli flakes
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Heat the oil in a pan.
- Stir in the garlic and chilli flakes, taking care not to burn the garlic.
- Add the spaghetti and toss everything together until it is all piping hot.
- Season well with salt and black pepper, and serve immediately.
Recipe 2: Spaghetti With Chickpeas and Sage
It is a simple task to take the above recipe a step further, and create a new dish with that chilli and garlic base.
After stage 2 above, add 1 can of chickpeas, drained, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon of dried sage, then toss with the spaghetti and season. This is a tangy interpretation of an ancient chickpea and pasta dish known as tuoni e lampi (thunder and lightning), a version of which is mentioned in Horace’s satires from around 30 BC. If ever a dish has stood the test of time!
Recipe 3: Arrabiatta Sauce
The chef at the restaurant where I used to work sometimes made penne arrabbiata for me at the end of the night. That rich tomato sauce with a fiery kick and enough garlic to keep Dracula off the streets for a week was a big hit to me in my fledgling vegetarian days. A few years later that chef had moved on to his own restaurant, and I called in one night with my (then) wife. I ordered the penne arrabbiata for old time’s sake.
When it arrived, I was dismayed to see that the version the chef prepared at his own restaurant had some sort of meat sausage in it. I chewed on garlic bread while my wife enjoyed a pasta bonus alongside her pizza.
There’s no need to add sausage to an arrabbiata sauce, but if that is your bag then there are plenty of very good plant-based versions around. Here though is the stripped-back version the chef prepared for me.
- 2 tablespoon olive oil (or 1 centimetre water for oil-free)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (or more, if that is your thing)
- 1 tablespoon chilli flakes
- 6 or so fresh basil leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- 1 can Italian plum tomatoes, chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon brown sugar
- salt and pepper
- penne pasta (or whichever you prefer)
- Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onion until soft.
- Add the garlic and chilli flakes and saute 1 minute more, taking care not to burn the garlic.
- Pour in the tomatoes and add the tomato paste, basil leaves and sugar.
- Simmer gently for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.
- Serve with freshly cooked pasta of your choice.
Recipe 4: Pasta Cappriciosa
I had been to a funeral a long way from home, and I was staying in the coastal resort of Skegness in Lincolnshire. In the evening, I dined alone at an Italian restaurant, choosing a vegetarian dish spaghetti capricciosa, with a garlic bread side (the latter proved surplus to requirements). The pasta dish comprised a rich tomato sauce, with mushrooms, black olives and artichoke quarters. It was so tasty, I jotted down the ingredients so I could make it again at home.
To make a chunky cappriciosa sauce, simply add sliced mushrooms, black olives and artichoke quarters at stage 2 of the arrabbiata recipe above, and you'll have a decent representation of what I enjoyed in Skegness.
Pasta Sauce Prep Playlist
Mink DeVille were loosely associated with the burgeoning punk scene, primarily because of their regular appearances at CBGB's in New York. Punk or not, I always stopped what I was doing when this tasty number came on Top of the Pops. Sadly, Willy DeVille died in 2009, aged just 58.