In an effort to post made-from-scratch recipes for those readers who are just learning basic cooking, here's the recipe for Basic Spaghetti I made for Older Daughter's birthday dinner the other day.
The nice thing about spaghetti is how flexible it is. You can add or subtract any number of ingredients to tweak it to your particular taste. It can be meaty or vegetarian; the pasta can be homemade, store-bought, whole-grain, spinach, or any combination; the sauce can have spices and additives (such as mushrooms, onions, etc.) adjusted to suit. It's a wonderfully versatile dish.
In our particular case (or maybe I should say, in Older Daughter's particular case, since this was her requested dinner) I started with a pound of ground turkey. She doesn't care for ground beef (which is a pity, since we have so much of it when we butcher a steer) so we substituted ground turkey.
The turkey was frozen, so I slowly browned it at low temperature as it defrosted in the pot.
Unlike ground beef, ground turkey doesn't need any fat drained off. After the meat was browned...
...I assembled the other ingredients, in this case: canned tomatoes (my tomatoes didn't grow in last summer's garden so I didn't have any canned up) which I chopped up in a blender; tomato paste for thickness; salt, pepper, oregano, basil, and garlic for spices. I don't have a measure for the spices -- I just add things to taste.
I started by adding the tomato products...
...and then the spices. I also added a splash of vinegar and a pinch (quarter teaspoon perhaps) of sugar to offset the bitterness from the vinegar.
The secret to any spaghetti sauce is to let it simmer for at least half an hour or longer. That way the ingredients blend for a better taste (many people say spaghetti sauce tastes better the next day). But while simmering, be sure to cover it. Spaghetti sauce is so thick that it won't "bubble" -- it will explode into miniature sauce-bombs that will splatter everything unless there's a lid on the pot.
While the sauce is simmering, time to cook the pasta. If you're ambitious, you can make your own pasta from your own eggs and wheat. If you're short on time (or don't have a farm), pasta is cheap at the grocery store.
I usually boil water first, then snap the spaghetti strands in half before dropping them in. A dollop of oil into the cook water will help keep the pasta from clumping, and it helps to stir it once in awhile.
How "done" should the pasta be? Again, it's a matter of taste. Some prefer "al dente" (half-cooked), others prefer it well cooked. I test it by sampling a piece. Other naughtier types will take a piece of pasta and throw it against a wall or ceiling. If it sticks, it's done. (Ahem -- I've discouraged the girls from employing this particular method of testing.)
Drain the pasta...
...and ladle some sauce over it. We also enjoy sprinkling some Parmesan cheese on it. Voilà! A good hearty meal, especially on cold winter nights.
Feel free to add your favorite variations on this theme. I figure this is what I'll do for readers who are novice cooks -- whenever I make a basic dish (and let's face it, most of my cooking isn't fancy) then I'll post it as a tutorial.