The Italians serve the spaghetti or macaroni at the beginning of the meal, in place of soup, and they give it the name of Minestra Asciutta or "dry" soup. Besides the familiar spaghetti, the paste is served in many other forms and with different seasoning. This is by far the most popular Italian dish, and it seems to have pleased the taste of all the peoples of the earth. The highly nutritive qualities of spaghetti and of cheese, their indispensable condiment, have been recognized by all diet authorities and, as for its palatableness, the lovers of spaghetti are just as enthusiastic and numerous outside of Italy as within the boundaries of that blessed country. The most popular seasoning for spaghetti, are tomato sauce, brown stock and anchovy sauce. The description of these three condiments follows:
Chop together, fine, one quarter of an onion, a clove of garlic, a piece of celery as long as your finger, a few bay leaves and just enough parsley. Season with a little oil, salt and pepper, cut up seven or eight tomatoes and put everything over the fire together. Stir it from time to time and when you see the juice condensing into a thin custard strain through a sieve, and it is ready for use.
When fresh tomatoes are not available the tomato paste may be used. This is a concentrated paste made from tomatoes and spices which is to be had, at all Italian grocers', now so numerous in all American cities. Thinned with water, it is a much used ingredient in Italian recipes. Catsup and concentrated tomato soup do not make satisfactory substitutes as they are too sweet in flavor. Of course canned tomatoes seasoned with salt and a bit of bay leaf, can always be used instead of fresh tomatoes.
This sauce serves many purposes. It is good on boiled meat; excellent to dress macaroni, spaghetti or other pastes which have been seasoned with butter and cheese, or on boiled rice seasoned in the same way (see Risotto). Mushrooms are a fine addition to it.
When using concentrated paste the following recipes will be found to give good results:
Chop one onion, one carrot and a celery stalk: form a little bunch of parsley and other aromatic greens and put everything to brown in a saucepan together with a piece of butter. Add a reasonable portion of tomato paste while cooking, stir and keep on a low fire until the sauce assumes the necessary consistency.
Cover the bottom of a saucepan with thin slices of beef taken from a juicy cut and small pieces of salt pork. Place over a large onion, one carrot, and a stalk of celery, all chopped in small pieces. Add some butter and cover the whole with any trimmings from steaks or roasts and any bit of left over cooked meat. Season with salt and cloves. Put over the fire without stirring. When you smell the onions getting very brown, turn the meat and when everything is quite brown add a cup of water, renewing the latter three times. Finally add a certain quantity of boiling water or, better still, of broth, and let it boil gently five or six hours. Strain, cool and skim off the fat which will form a cake on top of the liquid.
The meat can be used afterward for meat balls or Croquettes. The stock may be kept for some days and forms the basis for many dishes.
This recipe does not call for the filets of anchovies prepared for hors d'œuvre, but the less expensive and larger whole anchovies in salt to be had in bulk or cans at large dealers. Wash them thoroughly in plenty of water. Remove head, tail, backbone and skin and they are ready for use.
Put five or six anchovies into a colander and dip quickly into boiling water to loosen the skins, remove the salt, skin and bone them. Chop them and put over the fire in a saucepan with a generous quantity of oil and some pepper. Do not let them boil, but when they are hot add two tablespoons of butter and three or four tablespoons of concentrated tomato juice made by cooking down canned tomatoes and rubbing through a sieve. When this sauce is used to season spaghetti, these must be boiled in water that is only slightly salted and care must be taken not to let them become too soft. The quantities above mentioned ought to be sufficient for about one pound of spaghetti.
This is the simplest form in which the spaghetti may be served, and it is generally reserved for the thickest paste. The spaghetti are to be boiled until tender in salted water, taking care to remove them when tender, and not cooked until they lose form. They should not be put into the water until this is at a boiling point.
Take as much macaroni as will half fill the dish in which it is to be served. Break into pieces two and a half to three inches long if you so desire. The Italians leave them unbroken, but their skill in turning them around the fork and eating them is not the privilege of everybody. Put the macaroni into salted boiling water, and boil twelve to fifteen minutes, or until the macaroni is perfectly soft. Stir frequently to prevent the macaroni from adhering to the bottom. Turn it into a colander to drain; then put it into a pudding-dish with a generous quantity of butter and grated cheese. If more cheese is liked, it can be brought to the table so that the guests can help themselves to it.
The macaroni called "Mezzani" which is a name designating size, not quality, is the preferable kind for macaroni dishes made with butter and cheese.
The most appreciated kind of macaroni are those seasoned with tomato sauce or with brown stock (see nos. 12 and 13). The macaroni are boiled as above, then drained in a colander, returned to the saucepan and mixed with the sauce and grated cheese. For those who like it some butter may be added in the mixing.
After the paste is drained thoroughly it is to be put into the hot dish in which it is to be served and the anchovy sauce poured over it and well mixed with two silver forks until the sauce has gone all through it. Some olive oil may be added, but grated cheese is not generally used with the anchovy sauce.
Put on the fire a pot with two quarts of salted water to which add a small piece of butter. When it begins to boil put in it ¾ lb. macaroni. Let it boil for five minutes, then drain them in a colander. Put them again in new boiling water, prepared as above and let them cook on a slow fire. Drain them again. Cover the bottom of a plate with macaroni and cover this first layer with grated cheese and with some vegetables in macédoine, that is, chopped fine and fried brown with butter. Repeat the draining, moisten the macaroni with the water in which they have previously cooked and keep on a low fire for ten minutes more.
The Macédoine of vegetables can be made with a dozen Bruxelles sprouts or one cabbage, half a dozen big asparagus cut in little pieces, a carrot cut in thin slices, a dozen small onions, some turnips and half a dozen mushrooms. The mushrooms and the asparagus can be omitted. Melt some butter in a saucepan and when the turnips, the carrots and the onions are half cooked, add the cabbage or sprouts. Put in some water and some more butter, boil for ten minutes and then add the mushrooms and the asparagus, adding salt and pepper, and a little sugar if this is desired.
Boil the macaroni in salted water until tender and drain them. Butter slightly a fireproof casserole and lay on the bottom some grated cheese and grated bread. Alternate the layers of cheese with macaroni and on the top layer of macaroni put more cheese and bread grated. Over the whole pour some melted butter, cover the casserole, (or pyrex plate) and put it in the oven with a low fire. Keep for ten minutes or more, until the top appears browned.
Grind ¼ lb. salt pork or bacon and fry it out in a saucepan. While it is frying put one small onion through the grinder. As soon as the pork begins to brown add the onion, the parsley chopped, a clove (or small section) of garlic shredded fine, and a few dried mushrooms which have been softened by soaking in warm water. When the vegetables are very brown (great care must be taken not to burn the onion, which scorches very easily) add ½ lb. round steak ground coarsely or cut up in little cubes. When the meat is a good brown color, add some fresh or canned tomatoes or half a tablespoonful of tomato paste and simmer slowly until all has cooked down to a thick creamy sauce. It will probably take ¾ hour. The sauce may be bound together with a little flour if it shows a tendency to separate.
This sauce is used to dress all kinds of macaroni and spaghetti, also for boiled rice (see Risotto). The macaroni or spaghetti should be left unbroken when cooked. If they are too long to fit in the kettle immerse one end in the boiling salted water and in a very few minutes the ends of the spaghetti under the water will become softened so that the rest can be pushed down into the kettle. Be careful not to overcook it, and it will not be pasty, but firm and tender. Drain it carefully and put in a hot soup tureen. Sprinkle a handful of grated cheese over it and pour on the sauce. Lift with two forks until thoroughly mixed.