Author: Mitchell Davis
Adapted from The Mensch Chef by Mitchell Davis
Well, if there is any recipe that could stand as a totem for the kind of food I grew up on, it is Jewish Spaghetti. To this day it serves as the ultimate comfort food for every member of my family. It was so much a part of our vernacular that we thought it was a recipe shared by Jews throughout the Diaspora. When I realized that no one at school had the foggiest idea what I was talking about when I referred to it casually in conversation, I was crushed like a Hunt’s tomato. Jewish Spaghetti is a recipe that originated with my great-grandmother Eva. It was made by my grandmother and her three sisters. It is made regularly by my mother. I can’t think of a piece of sole breaded in matzo meal and fried in butter without a scoop of Jewish Spaghetti on the side. It isn’t really spaghetti, or even Jewish, for that matter, at all. But never you mind.
If anything, Jewish Spaghetti probably has its roots in Italy. I had a revelation once when I was cooking in Italy and the chef for whom I was working was preparing the employee meal— spaghetti in tomato sauce. I was in Piedmont at the time, and in that region every pasta dish is finished with a generous dose of butter. The tomato sauce had been made fresh from those sweet Sicilian tomatoes that are hung to dry slightly, to concentrate their flavor and sugar content. Made with fresh pasta, the end result was as close to Jewish Spaghetti as you could get. I was so excited that I telephoned home to share my discovery with my family. Everyone at the restaurant in Italy thought I was pazzo.
Unlike its Italian cousin, Jewish Spaghetti is best if it is made in the morning and reheated at night. You can reheat it in a pot on the stove, or in a casserole that you bake in the oven. My mother dots the top with a little extra butter before she heats it up. It is also good cold from the fridge. – MD
1 pound elbow macaroni or similar, small pasta
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups (1 15-ounce can plus 1 8-ounce can) Hunt’s Tomato Sauce—not Italian style, not salt free, just the regular one
4 to 6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste, plus more for the cooking water
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water (about 4 quarts water with 1 1/2 tablespoons salt) to a boil. Add the pasta, stir, and cook until just past al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain, but do not rinse.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the tomato sauce, 4 tablespoons of sugar, salt and pepper. The amount of sugar necessary will depend on the sweetness of the tomato sauce. Use just enough sugar to remove any bitter flavor and give a sweet tomato taste. It should not be candy sweet. Add the drained noodles and stir to coat. Turn off the heat, cover, and if you have time, let sit several hours at room temperature so the noodles absorb the sauce. If you don’t have the time to let it sit, keep the heat on low and cook the pasta, stirring frequently, for 4 or 5 minutes until there’s no liquid sauce evident.
To reheat after the dish has sat, there are two options: 1) transfer the pasta to a 2-quart baking dish. Dot the top with a tablespoon or so of butter, cover with foil and bake in a preheated 350°F. oven for about 30 minutes. Remove the cover and bake a few more minutes until crisp on top. Or 2), just reheat on top of the stove over low heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning.
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