I was a chef years ago, and one dish that I crave and make often after being away from the professional kitchen after all these years is ‘Pasta Della Nonna’. I liked the Idea that you could use a couple cheap ingredients (tomato paste! red onion!) and make something pretty remarkable. The original recipe (although, as you can imagine, there are countless ‘pasta della Nonnas’) used white hand made spaghetti, tomato paste, oregano and rosemary, red onion, no garlic, and was finished with parmesan and pecorino cheeses. My version uses the same foundation that makes this dish fun and special and CHEAP – red onion and tomato paste, but I use whole spelt pasta, marjoram for my herb, I do add garlic to my dish, and I don’t eat dairy, so I omit both types of cheese, and frankly, it doesn’t need it.Oh, just so you know, this dish will set you back about $1.47!
- 4 ounces whole spelt pasta
- 2 teaspoons fresh marjoram leaves, torn
- 2 tablespoons (about) tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Boil and drain pasta (be sure to salt your pasta water, it should taste of the sea), reserving about 1 cup pasta water. Set the pasta aside. Whole spelt pasta only takes about 6 minutes to cook, so watch it. The dish will come together quickly, so no need to toss pasta in oil to keep from sticking.
- Heat the olive oil in a pan, add your red onion and brown over medium heat. Watch the flame, you dont want to burn your cubes.
- When the onion is browned, toss in your minced garlic, cook for about 30 seconds, then add your tomato paste. I add a heaping spoonful, which looks to add up to about 2 TB.
- Cook your paste out until it caramelizes. Tomato paste has a lot of natural sugar, so it won’t take long to caramelize. You will know once you’re there because it will start to smell sweet and caramely and a thin film will coat the bottom of the pan. Because this happens quickly, make sure your flame is no higher than medium, you don’t want to burn your paste.
- Once your paste is caramelized, get about 1/3 cup of the reserved pasta water into the pan quickly to stop the tomato from cooking, and scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Get your pasta into the pan along with the marjoram. Toss about over medium heat till the pasta absorbs some of the sauce, and the sauce gets silky. If the pan looks dry, add a little more of the reserved pasta water by the tablespoon until you get the consistency right. When you get it to where you want it to be, good and saucy, serve (yourself!).