First, if you’re actually Italian, you might not want to read any further. Second, if you’re not married or don’t have kids, it’s hard to imagine why you’d actually concern yourself with remembering how to cook anything. Guys know what I mean there. You just do it…or order it.
It behooves any male parent, however, to learn how to cook at least one meal his child(ren) like(s). Guys, it’s 2009. It needn’t be Chicken Cordon Bleu from scratch. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be that. It should be: 1) something kids like, and more specifically, something your kid likes, and 2) something that hangs around the only guy’s cooking principle – it should be relatively quick. Only two rules. This ain’t Emeril Legasse. We ain’t standing in front of a camera and two hundred women tossing out witticisms like “Bang!” Therefore:
Serves 3 (with enough left over for lunch the next day)
½ lb. hamburger (thawed)
I jar of Ragu Marinara sauce (the 1 lb. 10 oz., “regular” size – that’s 737 grams for you Brits)
2/3 box (of the 1 lb. – “regular” – box) of Angel Hair pasta, or ¾ box of any other type
garlic powder (take out the whole jar)
ground basil (take out the whole jar)
salt (find the shaker)
grated Parmesean cheese (any size jar that’s not empty)
Notes on substitutions, etc: Even most guys know that spaghetti can involve another type of meat than hamburger, so theoretically, you could use skinless, cubed chicken fried lightly in olive oil – HONK! Wrong. There are three reasons: 1) you’re making the process too long, however quickly you can cut up chicken, 2) the olive oil in your kitchen may well have been bought during the Carter administration, and 3) kids don’t want chicken if they can have hamburger. If your kid does, then your kid’s weird. Period. When I tell my daughter that I’m making spaghetti, the conversation always goes like this:
Cook: I’m making spaghetti tonight.
Kid: You are?
The hamburger: at least 80% lean; read the package in the store, dummy. The sauce: Let’s imagine that you do not have the Ragu brand at hand. Choose another a prepared sauce with an Italian name on the label (these names often end in the letters “A,” “I,” or “O,” in case that hasn’t registered with you). Do not choose any prepared sauce with some sort of hippie label on it or a brand name like Nature’s Harvestime, Annie’s Own, Health’s Best Choice, or the like; reject any sauce with the word “organic” on the label. What do you think they make Ragu out of, anyway? Rocks?
The pasta: my kid prefers Angel Hair pasta. This is a good thing. Angel Hair takes three minutes to cook properly.
The actual preparation: As indicated, the hamburger should be thawed, but if it isn’t, it doesn’t matter. (However, the following adjustment discussion is not taken into account in the time estimate below.) If the hamburger is still an icy rock, unwrap it, put it into a pan, put a lid on the pan, and turn on the burner. Make sure the setting is the lowest possible that still keeps the burner on. The heat will thaw the hamburger. Once thawed, the meat should be broken up thoroughly – or not, depending on mood. Chop it into four large chunks for all I care. The rest of the process will break it down anyway. Braise the meat. “Braise” means “cook until x is not pink anymore and maybe a little darker brown in spots.” You probably don’t need to turn up the heat, but if you’re in a hurry, go ahead. As the meat begins to cook, throw in some garlic powder. Do not measure. (Those spoons are buried in that drawer…maybe.) Four or five shakes are about right. This is key. Don’t be a boob and throw half the jar in. Toss and turn the meat in the pan if you’re in the mood for hard work. Don’t blacken the meat. “Blacken” means “burn.” If the meat was thawed to begin with, this should take about seven minutes, tops. At that point, drain the meat. “Drain” means “spoon the liquid fat in the pan into that coffee cup from the back of the fridge with white gunk in it.” This will require tilting the pan, cautiously. Return the coffee cup to the back of the refrigerator without spilling.
Next: turn on a large pot half full of water to boil (throw in a little salt if you believe that business about salt facilitating a quicker boil – definitely an iffy assertion), and open the sauce jar. Pour the sauce into the pan, and add some more garlic powder; again, use a guy’s measurement equivalent to “some, but not a truckload.” Stir the whole mess (chop the meat a bit more?), put the lid back on, check that the heat is just a bit above the lowest setting, and return to SportsCenter for about ten minutes. When a hockey story comes on in that ten minutes, leave the TV, return to the kitchen, and check to see if the sauce is simmering correctly. “Simmer” means “to bubble, but not to fly all over the room when the lid is removed.” Adjust heat if necessary. Stir and recover the pan. Re-check SportsCenter.
Last phase: the water should be boiling by now. Put in the pasta. Expert Italian cooks say that the noodles should not be broken, which is beyond precious – do what you want, but don’t break the noodles into inch-long segments. As stated, Angel Hair takes three minutes. Set a timer, or stare at your watch. At the beginning of those three minutes, sprinkle a little basil into the sauce and stir. (This is done at the end of the process; if added earlier, the basil will become bitter – allegedly.)
Assuming the three minutes have passed, you’re done cooking. Turn off the water, leave the sauce simmering or not, verify with SportsCenter that Johan Santana is likely the best athlete in baseball, and return to the kitchen to serve. Turn off the sauce if it’s still on. Remove the water from the pasta by throwing everything from its pot into a colander in the sink. “Colander” means “that metal bowl with a lot of holes in it.” Transfer the pasta onto a plate in whatever way suits you (although one of those things that looks like a big, curved, wide-toothed comb with a handle actually does work very well). The sauce goes on top. Put some grated Parmesean cheese on top of the whole pile.
Return to the living room to observe that, since you have made your kid’s favorite meal, you should be allowed to watch the Phillies game now. That may work.