Buela’s Spaghetti

Spaghetti made in dutch oven

There’s something special about comfort food. There’s also something special about experienced family cooks. Combine both and you have a memorable, tasty, and hopefully saucy moment. At least, my grandmother’s spaghetti is.

As a child and early adolescent, my grandmother, V, moved around a lot. Her mother had five children to different men, and well, times were tough. Smack in the middle of the ‘60s, my great-grandmother traveled from Brooklyn to Chicago and back. Eventually, she settled in Puerto Rico and at a very early age her eldest daughter met, fell in love and married my grandfather. This year they celebrate their 50th anniversary – phew! Just thinking about it gives me the chills. Chills of admiration, of course ;-).

Spaghetti dutch oven

Yet, admiration falls short in the attempt of describing or determining my grandmother’s cooking style. You see, my grandfather is very fond of Puerto Rican cuisine. More accurately, he loves the rural, home-grown beans, root vegetables, meat and most of the traditional dishes over here. On the other hand, my grandmother embraced the industrial age of food at US, plus all the culinary diversity of having lived in the busiest cities. Now, how can someone so enthusiastic about exploring food, satisfy the classic-rural palate of a husband, while giving the kids a taste of different places? The answer came to grandma in a simple manner: Puerto Ricanize  – yes, I just made that up – signature dishes from different cultures. Hence, spaghetti criollo was born. I bet something about that combination really appealed to grandpa. I mean, they’ve been married for 50 years, so food (with love) definitely played a part here.

Spaghetti Saucepan 1

The way this sauce deviates from typical marinara is that it requires no fresh tomatoes (industrial America kicking-in), you start off with sofrito and swap basil with cilantro. Part of the awesomeness of this recipe is it’s simplicity and versatility in terms of ingredients. Timing, however, is key. After a couple of conversations with grandma over the phone, I realized that timing was important because it allowed the flavors to blend together particularly well at low heat. Being a fast-forward, impatient, and ever-hungry cook, I hat to struggle with it, but the end product is worth the wait. Enough chit-chat, let’s get saucy.

Serves: 4 – 6

Spaghetti Add-ins dutch oven

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp Sofrito

-OR-

3 Cloves of garlic, minced

1 8 oz Can of tomato sauce*

1 6 oz Can of tomato paste*

1 C Water

2 Tsp Italian seasoning

-OR-

1/2 Tsp Dried thyme

1/2 Tsp Dried oregano

1/2 Tsp Dried parsley

1/4 Tsp Dried basil

1/4 Tsp Dried sage

1/4 Tsp Paprika

1/4 lb Mushrooms, sliced. Use ones you like.

1/2 Lg White onion, thinly sliced

1/2 Yellow bell pepper, sliced

1/4 C Fresh cilantro, finely chopped

12oz Spaghetti (#8 is preferable)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cilantro

The results of cooking this pasta, as with all other recipes, depends on the cookware. Interestingly, the differences in moisture are evident. If this dish is done in a deep pan, like a dutch oven, the sauce will be really moist, runny, even. If a shallow saucepan is used, the results are slightly dryer and the sauce tends to stick better to the noodles. In fact, it was this difference that drove eluded me for quite some time in trying to replicate grandma’s recipe. She used a shallow saucepan.

  1. In the cookware of your preference (see note above), sauté the sofrito in the olive oil at medium heat, until it turns light yellow and has absorbed some of the oil. Be careful not to burn it.
  2. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste and water. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Add the Italian seasoning or spice mix and lower the heat to medium low. Let the sauce simmer at medium low for at least 45 minutes – this is crucial.
  4. Taste the sauce! Dried spices vary in intensity, so it’s important to taste every step as possible. Add additional seasonings if necessary.
  5. In a large pot, bring water to a boil with the lid on. While the water heats up, add the goodies to the sauce.
  6. Stir-in the mushrooms. Cook for 15 minutes, without the lid.
  7. Add the onions and peppers. Cook for 10 minutes. Now’s a good time to add the spaghetti and cook for about or a little under the same time.
  8. Strain the spaghetti and immediately add to the sauce. Mix and set the saucepan on low heat, no lid.
  9. Add the cilantro and toss until completely mixed. Have some extra cilantro around to serve with. Enjoy.

Spaghetti Final 1

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Quinoa + Black Bean Salad

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It’s whats for dinner! Thou shall not waste food! Quinoa + Black Bean Salad, sautéed.

Festive Pico de Gallo

Pico de gallo. I won’t go into the literal translation of it, but it really is a refreshingly vibrant addition to any savory something. Cool, acidic, slightly sweet, and picante at the same time. Pico de gallo is traditionally found at most taquerías and other Mexican-influenced restaurants, but in Puerto Rico, you can find it just about anywhere criollo. In fact, there’s a chain of food restaurants called Pollo Tropical that offers a variety of signature Caribbean dishes and, just because it is so good with everything, they offer unlimited pico de gallo with your food. Did I mention Pollo Tropical is Cuban-owned? Talk about mixing cultures – yum.

As with sofrito, the recipe for pico de gallo varies greatly. Typically, it is slightly picante (or hot) from hot peppers, acidic and refreshingly sweet from tomatoes, onions and lime.  Some pico de gallo varieties are chunky, while others are runny. I made this recipe for pico de gallo adding a couple of twists and turns in terms of flavor, color and texture. A trio of peppers, garlic-infused oil, cilantro for freshness, and Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce® to add depth to the hot jalapeños. The last item can be found in the Asian section most supermarkets in the US, but in Puerto Rico I’ve seen it in health food stores, as well as an Asian supermarket located in Condado County.

The forecast was cloudy with a “chance of rain.” Naturally, it poured, since early in the morning. How depressing. It’s nice to know that some pico de gallo is here to brighten my breakfast though.

Yields: 4 cups of pico de gallo

Tools and Equipment

Mixing bowl

Knife

Cutting board

Small saucepan (optional)

Stove (optional)

Ingredients

3 Cloves of garlic, chopped or sliced

3 Equally-sized bell peppers (red, green, and yellow)

3 Tomatoes

1/2 Vidalia onion

1/2 Green jalapeño

1 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C Lemon juice, about two lemons

1/4 C Finely chopped fresh cilantro

2 Tsps Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce®

Black pepper or pepper medley to taste

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium-low, and add the garlic. Heat until the oil starts to bubble, in effect frying the garlic. Transfer the garlic and the infused oil onto a large mixing bowl and let it cool until necessary.
  2. Chop the peppers, tomatoes and the onion. For a runnier salsa, leave the pulp of the tomato. I like mine on the dryer side, so I removed it. You can puré the tomato pulp and add it to your next soup or sauce, like I did ;-).
  3. Cut the jalapeño in half and remove the stem and chop finely, be careful with all the flesh adjacent to the seeds, as it is the primary source of the heat. You can use gloves to be extra safe. Just make sure not let anything or anyone get near them once you’ve finished.
  4. Combine all the chopped goods with the garlic and oil in the mixing bowl from step #1.
  5. Add the lemon juice and the chilli sauce, mix again.
  6. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour. The longer, the better though, as it will allow flavors from the fresh veggies and fruits to mix together in both acidic and oily phases (read: It will taste 10x better).

On Roasting Garlic. An awesome fundamental.

“Garlic.” After hearing the word, I’m immediately transported to a time when Emeril Lagasse would “add just a little” of the good stuff to hot pan. You could hear the garlic sizzle, but nothing could compare to the smell that must have emanated from there. No wonder he often spoke about how we, the viewers, should demand for “smellavision.” Speaking of smells, roasting garlic is one of those things that will have you, and your neighbors, crazy with the amazing aroma of deliciousness. Really.

I had never tried roasting garlic until very recently. It was so simple and delicious, I ate six garlic heads with toasts and had a lovely-garlic(y) breath afterwards. It also proved to be a taste-changing element in most of the recipes I used to make with raw garlic. For the better, of course. Since this is the first recipe I post, and because I have some stuff from lab to get done, I will omit the measurements. It is so intuitive and versatile, you don’t really need anything other than the time, the temperature and a couple of tips here and there.

First off, set the oven to 300°F and make sure you have a pan where you can accommodate the garlic. I bought these rather small garlic heads at the supermarket today, so I placed them in the pan just to see how many would fit.

Cut the top off the heads and season with generous amounts of salt and pepper. Douse with some extra virgin olive oil.

Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour at 300 °F. Once the time is done, remove the top foil and place the pan on the topmost rack of the oven. Increase the temperature to 375°F and roast for 20 minutes. Let it cool off for 15 – 20 minutes. WARNING: The aroma of roasted garlic will take over your entire kitchen area, and if your apartment/living space is as small as mine, then get ready to have the smell of garlic in your clothes, computers, oh, and cake, if you happen to have any around, like I did. Alas, not to worry. Leave a window open and the smell dissipates very quickly.

Squeeze out the garlic cloves into a clean container. I don’t know if it’s the lab rat in me, but using nitrile gloves felt perfect for this job. No mess, no fuss, just clean squeezing.

All I can say, is that roasted garlic is amazing. It works for families and for far-from-family-students, as they can be stored in the refrigerator for quite a long time. The flavors of roasted garlic blend so well, that they make anything and everything taste delicious, without the overpowering-OUCH raw garlic gives food. That’s why I think it can serve as part of a base for other ingredients/flavors to build upon. Like avocados, lime, and jalapeños, for example. Now, if I just had cherry tomatoes.