Tuesday, July 30, 2013

spaghetti al pomodoro

Recently I've had a yen for really simple Italian home food. In the last few weeks, I've been making simple lunches with bread rubbed with garlic and olive oil (best trick ever), salami, cherry tomatoes and cheese - a lunch that brings Italy and Melbourne back to me in equal measure.

Dinners at home have been equally simple. Mr Grey and I have made this pasta twice already and because it is so criminally fast and easy, it will probably become is now a week night staple. This gets dinner on the table in 20 minutes flat and only uses 2 pans.

Spaghetti al pomodoro is a classic and easy Italian dish. There are a few variations of it but all of them will call for the unbeatable trifecta of good tomatoes, olive oil and garlic. The recipe below is my favourite kind: a recipe that is not really a recipe. I adapted it from here

Spaghetti al pomodoro (for two)


extra virgin olive oil q.b
2 cloves of garlic (smashed and peeled)
 250 - 300g cherry tomatoes
salt q.b.
a few leaves of fresh basil
enough spaghetti for two people


Boil the spaghetti in salted water.

Warm the olive oil in a large saute pan. Make sure you use a fairly large amount of olive oil. Fry the garlic gently in the oil until golden but do not allow garlic to brown.

Halve the tomatoes and add them to the pan with a pinch of salt. When the tomatoes start to soften, use a spatula or wooden spoon to squash them so that their juices run into the garlicky olive oil. Add basil and cook for a few more minutes. Lower the flame.

Once pasta is al dente, drain and add to the tomato pan. Remember to reserve some of the pasta cooking water.

Mix the pasta together with the oil and tomato juices, add a little pasta water if the mixture seems dry. Serve immediately.

This can be eaten with parmesan cheese or without. If using parmesan, add it to the last step and stir.

Roasted tomato variation here.

P.S. Do not use store bought sliced bread when making that sandwich I described above. Use good bread in thick fat slices. Panini would work, focaccia already has olive oil in it so you could opt for less oil. The salami (so expensive, I know!) can be swapped for any kind of sausage or ham or simply omitted. It's painful, but simple meals like that only work when using excellent ingredients. I nearly always use my weekly splurge money on good tomatoes (and cheese) - tells you something about my priorities!

Friday, July 19, 2013

quanto basta, agak-agak and aggaration

Frantically busy week - even the piano lessons were postponed - but I thought I'd pop in to share this little gem.

This week, I came across the Italian phrase "quanto basta". The literal translation of quanto basta is "how much is enough" and apparently means (for Italian cooks) 'what you think is the right quantity', 'as much as is needed', or 'to taste'. It appears in older Italian cookbooks and it just means that the cook should use whatever quantity of whatever (oil, salt, sugar etc) he/she thinks is enough.

I was delighted to come across this phrase. Truly, if there is one motto I cook by, it would be the Singlish phrase - aggaration. It's a phrase that is really and truly Singlish - an Anglicized version of the Malay phrase "agak-agak" which is generally taken to mean "just go estimate it to your liking". Quanto basta sounds just like the Italian phrase for the exact same idea and I love it. It's so nice to know that cooks everywhere kind of do the same thing, tasting as they go along and fiddling about with the dish.

Bearing that in mind, I shall now reproduce here (for the second time) my youngest Aunt's recipe for ginger dry rubbed chicken wings which is a pretty perfect example of a recipe that is simple and short on ingredients but is all about the aggaration.

Ginger chicken wings


1 kilogram chicken wings, drumsticks
Ground ginger powder (you should probably aggarate it to your liking. I use about 3-4 tablespoons)
Salt (Q.B.)

Rub the ginger power and salt into the chicken wings, taking care to massage it into all parts of the wing, especially the tips.

Refrigerate for a few hours or over night.

Roast in 200 degree oven for about 20-ish minutes - go and agak-agak the timing yourself.

Important Note:

Aggaration is a technique probably best used for cooking. Now baking is a different beast altogether. Whatever you do, do not attempt to "aggarate" a baking recipe unless you are an experienced baker. Some things can be adjusted without affecting the overall result much (e.g. reducing the amount of sugar used by about 20-30%) but some things cannot be adjusted as easily (e.g swapping plain flour for other kinds of flour).

Monday, July 1, 2013

On baptism

Most Christians today, at least in the developed world, are baptized in infancy; and even those whose traditions delay the rite until adulthood are, for the most part, children of Christian families and have grown up in the faith, and so their baptisms merely seal and affirm the lives they have always lived. This was obviously not the case, however, for most of the Christians of the earliest centuries; for them, baptism was of an altogether more radical nature. It was understood as nothing less than a total transformation of the person who submitted to it; and as a ritual event, it was certainly understood as being far more than a mere dramaturgical allegory of one’s choice of religious association. To become a Christian was to renounce a very great deal of what one had known and been to that point, in order to be joined to a new reality, the demands of which were absolute; it was to depart from one world, with an irrevocable finality, and to enter another.

A convert to Christianity from paganism somewhere in, say, the greater Byzantine world, within the first few decades after the Edict of Milan, would not in most circumstances have been granted immediate entry into the community of the faith.

Catechetical and liturgical customs varied greatly from place to place, but certain aspects of Christian baptism were very nearly universal. In general, if one sought to be received into the  church, one had first to become a catechumen, a student of the church’s teachings….. one might typically be required to depart from the congregation on Sundays after the liturgy of the word, before the Eucharist was celebrated. And one could remain in this liminal state, in many cases, for years, receiving instruction, submitting to moral scrutiny, learning to discipline one’s will, and gradually becoming accustomed to the practice of the Christian life. Whether brief or protracted, however, the period of one’s preparation for baptism could not conclude until one had been taught the story of redemption: how once all men and women had laboured as slaves in the household of death….. and how Christ had come to set the prisoners free and had, by his death and resurrection, invaded the kingdom of our captor and overthrown it, vanquishing the power of sin and death in us…

For it was into this story that one’s own life was to be merged when one at last sank down into the “life-giving waters”: in the risen Christ, a new humanity had been created, free from the rule of death, into which one could be admitted by dying and rising again with Christ in baptism…..

-- David Bentley Hart in "Atheist Delusions"


It is a peculiarity of our modern age that many people who identify themselves as Christians actually know - and understand - very little about Christianity. They enter churches singing along and smiling amiably but the reality is that their grasp of even the most fundamental tenets of the faith is weak, even tenuous. 

Part of the problem is this: in the rush to be inclusive and welcoming, many churches make the mistake allowing newcomers into the life of the church without first ascertaining their understanding of Christ and his redemptive work. 

This typified by practices such as allowing non members into service and participation in nearly every part of the church's life and a very truncated period of teaching and preparation for baptism. In at least one church I attended, preparation for baptism consisted of a 2 hour session, half of which was taken up by an explanation of the logistics of the actual baptism service. There was no inquiry into the life of the candidate save for ascertaining that the candidate had attended the church regularly for at least 6 months. 

It is unfortunate, but in most cases, a newcomer's willingness to be of service and friendliness are mistaken as conversion and transformation when it is possible (or even likely) that neither have taken place.