by Isabel Dwyer
Pasta gets a hard time. When it comes to student chefs, these little carb-overdoses don’t get much treatment other than the contents of a stale Dolmio jar. The general student body opinion seems to be that pasta doesn’t deserve much more. It gets eaten with some forks stolen from the Bialann, ‘enjoyed’ on one of those cardboard couches of a certain student accommodation that shall not be named. How has it come to this?
The thing is, great quality pasta dishes don’t take that much more time, effort or dosh than the dull way you might be making it as is. Below lies my favourite pasta recipe of all time, a gem stolen from a friend that is ideal for you, your housemates, or the new boyfriend/girlfriend that you’re seeing and want to impress.
You’ll need chilli flakes, garlic, a tin of anchovies, a tin of tomatoes, lemon, basil and buffalo mozzarella. Oh, and your pasta of choice. I like to go for rigatoni because it makes me feel fancy, but you can do this with any type. Those little shells work well here too.
As for sourcing these ingredients on a student budget, shopping around is key. I find Tesco cheap for the mozzarella (under 80c for a ball), while Masterson’s grocers (right next to the Tesco on Headford Road) is great for buying fresh herbs. The basil from there seems to stay fresher for longer than that from other grocers AND it comes in recyclable packaging. Best of all, by buying there, you’re supporting small and local businesses.
Now for the cooking itself. Start with a bit of prep on the anchovies and garlic. Two cloves would probably be a socially acceptable amount to use in this recipe, but, honestly, throw in as many as you want. I’ve never cooked a meal where I wished I used less garlic. I like to be lazy and just smash the cloves with the side of the knife instead of crushing or chopping. Honestly, it’s tastier that way too. With your anchovies, mash them into a paste. I always leave two or three un-mashed to put on top of the pasta at the end. Also, don’t throw away the oily goodness that’s left in the tin, we’ll need that later. Heat up some olive oil (or whatever you have, really) in a big pot. Add the mashed anchovies, garlic, and just a few chilli flakes. A few flakes go a long way, so make sure not to add too many, unless you like a bit of heat. Add your tin of tomatoes. Most tins are about 39c in Tesco.
Meanwhile, get your pasta going on the side. The key here is to salt the water a lot more than you think you should. No need to add any oil to the water, that only stops the sauce from soaking in later. You don’t want to cook your pasta all the way through, either. When it’s about half-cooked, drain and remove from heat. Save about a cup-full of the water from the pasta and add to your tomato mixture – this is crucial for a good sauce.
Bring to a boil. Add some lemon juice. I like to add a tiny bit of vinegar here too, whatever type you have is fine. Now throw all the pasta into the sauce, keep on a high heat, and let it finish cooking in there. That way, it soaks up all the flavour.
Now for the magic. Chop up your remaining basil finely and cut the mozzarella into little chunks. Plate up the pasta in a bowl and top it off with the basil and chunks. Drizzle the oil from the anchovy tin on top – because, why not?
Customize the dish to suit yourself – you can always skip the basil and mozzarella. Use tuna instead of anchovies if you prefer, or no fish at all, if you want; just amp up the lemon and salt in its place. Add a handful of spinach for a bit of effortless vitamin K.
And finally, always serve pasta in a bowl. Never, ever, leave it in the saucepan. You’re better than that. You deserve better than that.