KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 2 – Less is more. Isn’t that the adage? Minimalists have adopted this for their mission to reduce clutter in homes everywhere; naturists likely feel the same towards most articles of clothing.
Yet where cooking is concerned, we are often guilty of asking for more (ingredients, that is; not portions – though that might be true also).
Why have just ice cream when you can have stack upon stack of different flavours scooped onto your charcoal cone, with extra garnishes such as brownies or doughnuts?
Why have just coffee when you can have a double shot ristretto topped with foamed milk, then a ridiculously large dollop of fresh cream, followed by a generous dusting of cocoa powder and whatever wafers/chocolate bars/cinnamon sticks you can insert into the towering concoction? (And a cherry on top too, why not?)
It’s enough to make one understand why minimalists and naturalists crave less rather than excess.
But let’s be honest, it’s also fun going overboard. That’s probably why one of my favourite things to eat is the simple fare that is economy rice.
Mix and match all your favourite dishes and slather it with your preferred gravy or curry. Consume in a flurry of stirring and shovelling.
What could be more pleasurable?
Still, there is something to be said for a dish that does more with less. A weekend kitchen session doesn’t have to be a feat of Michelin-starred achievement. It ought to be fun and sometimes the more basic the recipe, the more enjoyable it is.
It’s also about making do with what you have in your pantry, certainly. If one’s larder is rather bare but has some form of starch (e.g. rice, noodles, pasta), aromatics (e.g. garlic, onions, shallots) and some base of a sauce (e.g. tomatoes, cream, extra virgin olive oil), then one can dish up a hearty one-pan meal easily.
The larder’s scarcity can be an inspiration, to focus on the precious few rather than the superfluous many. Recently I scoured mine and found promising, if humble, staples: pappardelle, garlic and tomatoes. That’s lunch calling in another guise.
The nests of rolled up dried pappardelle, in particular, were particularly inviting. Anything round is a source of comfort but these vowed to unfurl into ribbons of desire, sensual and satiating.
The garlic, well, I had more than I knew what to do with. All the better to use in a sauce, to make it truly aromatic. Let a single note ring strong and dominate (especially since I lack onions, celery, shallots and other members of the allium family).
Tomatoes, I had both the fresh and canned variety. Using a mix of fresh and canned allows for different textures and also a deeper flavour, what more if the type of tomatoes is different – say fresh Roma or plum tomatoes and canned cherry tomatoes.
Of course, depending on what you have in your kitchen, this could well be a base, a rendition of the infamous stone soup.
Those who prefer something non-vegetarian could add some animal proteins – some minced beef or lamb, maybe some sliced up spicy sausages. Topped with some sautéed mushrooms and fried shallots, and this pasta dish is elevated to a one-plate feast.
But ultimately, it's about letting the few basic ingredients shine: the beautiful rolls of ribbony pappardelle, the pungent aroma of garlic, the unctuous umami of the tomatoes. It's your way of agreeing: Yes, less is more.
PAPPARDELLE IN TOMATO & GARLIC SAUCE
This could be considered an Italian recipe. Certainly, the presence of garlic – and plenty of it! – is indispensable to Italian cooking. However, it’s safer to assume this is just a back-to-basics dish so as not to offend any Italian friends.
Truth is, in Italy, an authentic marinara sauce would require basil and oregano in addition to the tomatoes. Also, a marinara is more suited to thinner pasta such as spaghetti; a flat, ribbon pasta such as pappardelle or tagliatelle would be paired with a meat sauce such as a ragù alla Bolognese.
Here, there is an option to add meat, if you have or enjoy it, so that it’s closer to a ragù. However, to keep things simple, we’ve omitted the classic Italian soffritto – an aromatic foundation typically made from onions, carrots and celery.
Hence our resulting sauce is not as complicated – you should be able to taste the garlic and tomatoes more clearly. Which is not to say it lacks for taste: your sauce should be dark and deep in flavour, like red wine. (Which wouldn’t be a bad idea to add, if you have that too.)
100 g minced beef/lamb/pork (optional)
6-12 cloves garlic, sliced
2-3 fresh plum tomatoes, diced
1 can tomatoes
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon miso paste
1 litre water
200 g dried pappardelle
Salt and black pepper
Warm some olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. If you’re using minced meat, you can sauté the meat first till just cooked then remove from the pan and set aside. (You can add it back to the pan once the sauce is ready to prevent overcooking the meat.)
Sauté the sliced garlic in the olive oil. Use more or less garlic depending on your preference and tolerance to its pungency. Next add the diced fresh tomatoes and the canned tomatoes. You can use your spatula to break down the canned tomatoes but you may leave chunks of it for a contrast of texture.
Simmer till the tomato juices have reduced to more of a thick sauce. Season with the fish sauce, soy sauce and miso paste. (Alternatively just season with salt and pepper to taste.) Return the meat to the pan to warm it up in the sauce, if using. Remove from heat and set aside with a lid to cover the pan.
Using a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, add a generous amount of salt then the dried pappardelle. Cook according to package instructions or until al dente.
Drain the cooked pappardelle, reserving about a cup of the cooked pasta water. Toss your cooked pappardelle in the sauce. Use a little reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce to your liking. Taste and season again with more salt and black pepper if necessary.
Dish onto plates and serve immediately.
For more Weekend Kitchen stories and recipes, visit https://lifeforbeginners.com/weekend-kitchen/.