Delicious pasta and tomato, always a sure bet if you need to whip up something quickly, can all too often end up as nothing more than a plate of boiled pasta with tomato passata poured on top straight out of the tin. Yuck! One mistake after another… But keep calm: we’ve got the solution! We’ve found grandma’s secret for genuine Italian maccheronialla nonna.
The most important thing for delicious macaroni is time. Forget about knocking something up in 5 minutes, tinned sauces, Bolognese sauces with only 5 g of meat for every litre of sauce and other horrors. In Italy, whole armies of grannies get up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning to start making the sauce. We’re not that strict, but there’s no getting round the fact that any decent salsa della nonna needs cooking for a good couple of hours.
For the sauce:
- 1 onion
- Carrot and celery as necessary
- Minced pork or beef: 40–50 g (1.4–1.7 oz) per person
- Tomato passata: 150 g (5.3 oz) per person
- A dash of white wine
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Black pepper
- Fresh basil
For the pasta:
- Penne rigate or fusilli: 80–100 g per person
To cook au gratin:
Grated Parmesan cheese and, if you really want to impress, a little mozzarella cheese
The tomato sauce for macaroni is pure poetry. Start by chopping the onion, carrot and celery as finely as possible. Then gently fry them in a fairly large pan with a good dash of extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. When the onion has turned translucent, add the minced meat, and when the meat has started to change colour, add a dash of white wine.
Once the wine has evaporated a little, stirring all the while to make sure the meat doesn’t stick, add the tomato passata, two glasses of water, a teaspoonful of sugar (another of grandma’s tricks to counteract the acidic tomatoes) and salt to taste. Stir well. You’ll end up with a fairly thin sauce, but don’t worry, this is where the real secret comes in: you need to let it thicken over a low heat for a couple of hours. You’ll need to stir every 10 minutes or so to make sure it doesn’t stick. You’ll know when it’s ready when a wooden spoon doesn’t drip when you lift it out of the sauce. At this point, take it off the heat and put by.
Only now should you bring a pan of water to the boil for the pasta; not before. You most definitely do not want to be cooking the penne first of all and then leaving it in the colander for hours. When the water has come to the boil, add the penne and a little coarse salt and cook for a couple of minutes less than the time given in the instructions on the packet, as it will finish cooking in the oven. When the pasta is ready, strain but don’t run it under the tap: utter sacrilege for any true pasta lover.
Add the pasta to the pan with the sauce (if you’ve made lots of sauce, take off what you don’t need for this recipe; you can even freeze it in individual pots to make life easier). Mix well and put half the mixture in an oven tray. Add some small pieces of mozzarella and cover with the remaining half. Sprinkle with plenty of Parmesan and bake in the oven for 5 or 10 minutes at the most!
Decorate with fresh basil leaves and serve. You’ll bowl your guests over as a thousand Italian grandmas breathe a sigh of relief. Doing the right thing has never been so easy.