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Author Notes: In my experience, this recipe feeds about 4 hungry people if you mix the sauce in with about 500/600 grams of al dente cooked spaghetti. Don’t be silly and do like the Italians do: add the sauce to the pasta in the pot, mix everything and make sure the pasta isn’t too wet with your sauce. Think of it like this: you’re a painter and the pasta is your blank canvas: make sure that you don’t overcrowd your canvas and that the pasta is the star. Spaghetti is the way to go with this dish, maybe tagliatelle, just make sure that the exterior side of the pasta looks rough: that way you’re gonna be sure that the sauce actually sticks to the pasta instead of falling off of it when you pick it up with your fork. The idea is that you have a rather dry, concentrated sauce which kind of “opens” up as soon as you stir it into the pasta. Leave to sit in the pot for a minute or two so the pasta soaks up the sauce and serve. Enjoy with good company and a glass of good, full bodied red wine. —The Melting Pot
- 1 finely chopped onion
- 1 finely chopped carrot
- 1 finely chopped bulb of fennel (if in season)
- 1 finely chopped stick of celery
- 3 cloves of finely chopped garlic
- 1 can of tomatoes
- 1 aubergine, chopped in small cubes
- 250 grams sliced up mushrooms (oyster, shi take and / or button mushrooms)
Herbs, spices and condiments
- 1 tablespoon crushed fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon dried tyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 200 milliliters red wine
- 3 tablespoons good quality red wine / balsamic vinegar
- basil or parsley to garnish
- olive oil
- freshly ground black pepper
- sea salt
- optional: Grated parmesan / matured São Jorge cheese
- Make your soffritto: fry your onion, carrot, celery (and fennel) in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil on a medium heat. Add some sea salt to help the vegetables break down and cook it down until it gets soft and caramelized. As soon as you see the vegetables sticking to the bottom of the pan, add your garlic, turn down the heat and keep stirring until the veggies are nicely caramelized and almost become like a puree. Take your time (around 15 minutes). It’s the most important part of the whole sauce.
- Add the tomato paste and cook it out until the raw smell disappears and until it also starts to caramelize on the bottom of the pan. Add your fennel seeds, thyme and oregano and stir to wake up the flavors. When you feel like it’s almost getting too dark, then you can turn up the heat and add your vinegar (you can either use only balsamic or a mixture of different vinegars but make sure it’s good quality) and your wine. Cook it down until the mixture starts to caramelize and stick to the bottom of the pan again. Turn down the heat again to medium.
- Add the can of tomatoes (don’t bother with fresh ones, they don’t pack the same punch of flavor), add half a can of water and a couple of bay leaves (crush them a bit before you add them to make them more aromatic). Break up the tomatoes with a spoon, keep stirring and let it simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. This is when you add your aubergines and mushrooms which you prepare like this: – In a very hot pan, fry up your mushrooms with some olive oil, salt and thyme until they’re very golden and crispy. Drain on kitchen paper and let them cool down, chop them up until you get like “pulled pork” textured chunks and add them to the sauce. – The cubes of aubergine you fry in some olive oil with some salt and thyme in a medium hot pan until they’re golden brown all around. Drain on kitchen paper and add them together with your mushrooms to the sauce.
- Let the sauce cook at medium heat for about 10 more minutes while you cook the pasta. Keep stirring so the sauce doesn’t catch on the bottom. Add salt and pepper to taste. I like to add just a tad more of balsamic vinegar in the last two minutes because it gives a really pleasant bite to the sauce.
- Before mixing the sauce in with the pasta (and not the other way around!), take out the bay leaves and add some chopped parsley or when using basil, tear it up and add it only when you’ve stirred in the sauce with the pasta. Keep some of the pasta cooking water in case your sauce should be a little too dry.
- Be amazed.