Monday, July 25, 2011

The Spaghetti Project

After nearly two months of living in hotels and hostels and now somebody else’s house, I’ve been aching to get in a kitchen and cook something for a while now. And much as I really do love Indonesian food, I miss, well, other things, like pasta, or samosas. So when somehow the topic of cooking came up while I was in Bintuni, and Juen asked if I knew how to make spaghetti, quickly promised to make some as soon as possible, with saus tomat and daging. Or, even better than meat sauce, meatballs. And garlic bread, naturally. Go big or go home.

Today was the big day. First stop was Hadi Mart, our sad excuse for a grocery store, where somehow I managed to find real Filippo Berio Extra Virgin Olive Oil (no first cold press, but I am in Papua), imported Dutch butter in a can, frozen ground beef, and actual fettuccine. Shocking, considering most of the time they don’t even have bananas, in a part of the world where they grow in half the backyards in town. I figured I’d riff on my ragu recipe from Siena, and while there was no celery the carrots were pre-peeled and gorgeous. The local tomatoes were pathetic – the few red ones were moldy, and the rest were green and hard – but I bought a few anyway, and made up for it with a little can of tomato paste and (surprise!) some reasonably good jarred spaghetti sauce. I was hoping this would be entirely from scratch, but there’s no tomato sauce without tomatoes, so we make some compromises. All that, plus a loaf of bread, some milk, onions, banana chips, and a bottle of shampoo came to a little under $30, which is maybe a lot for a spaghetti dinner, but given nearly everything was imported I think I did pretty well.

Next challenge: cooking the stuff. Ibu was out for the afternoon, so with the help of Juen’s younger sister Virgine I started chopping vegetables around 4:00. The knives frankly sucked, so I was sawing away at the onions more than really slicing them, but it worked. The kitchen in the house pretty much has a tank of drinking water, dishes, and a sink; the real cooking is done is a shack out back, and after a few hours on a hot afternoon with those gas burners going I understand why. And thank goodness I had someone to help me, since I never would have figured out those burners myself – it’s more a super-sized camping stove setup than what you’d find in a kitchen. We sautéed the onions, carrots, and tomato paste in butter an olive oil, and already the smell was incredible, at least to a homesick quarter-Italian like myself. After that a few minced cloves of garlic cadged from the pantry, then the chopped tomatoes and jar of sauce. There’s no basil that I could find in this town, and certainly no oregano or parsley, so I was relying on the sauce to provide the herbs, at least what little it contained. And as Manokwari is a holy city – this is where the missionaries first arrived on mainland Papua, after their stay on Mansinam Island – there’s no red wine to be found here either. Pity. A pinch of salt, some black pepper, one little chili pepper, and some water, then set aside to boil for a while.

Next up: meatballs. Following the advice of the ever-wise Marcella Hazan, I soaked two slices of white bread in milk, then mashed them with some salt, pepper, garlic, minced onions, and a borrowed egg. All that got kneaded into the meat and rolled into balls. Then, because there was no oven and this is Indonesia, the balls were deep fried. Mmm, oil.

It was about this point when Ibu and her friend came home fro the market and started working outside the kitchen, cleaning singkong leaves, making coconut milk from grated coconut, and boiling big pots of eggs. Everyone was pretty intrigued by the whole sauce-making process, but then I was pretty intrigued by the making of the coconut milk, so.

While the sauce was boiling again, with the addition of a few meatballs for umami, I buttered a few slices of bread and went up to toast them in the little George Foreman-style grill everyone here seems to have for making toasted sandwiches. When they were golden I rubbed them with half a clove of garlic, and set that out. The sauce needed a little salt and a squirt of vinegar (lemon juice would have been ideal, but the closest they get here is lime, and that just would have been weird). Then boil up the fettucini, mix the meatballs into the sauce, add a little pasta water for texture and a pat of butter to the noodles, and presto: an Italian(-ish) dinner.

And it was fucking delicious, if I do say so myself. Objectively not the best ragu I’ve ever made – there’s no bacon around here, after all – but given the constraints and how long it’s been since I’ve had a proper bowl of pasta, amazing. The sauce could have cooked longer to soften up the veggies more, but I had trouble convincing Virgine to keep it on as long as I did, and Ibu needed the burner to do her cooking on anyway. I was particularly impressed by the meatballs; their flavor was great and the deep-frying gave them a nice texture. Hard to tell what everyone else thought, since we don’t really all eat together at the same time ever, but I’ll be having leftovers for breakfast and gladly.

Next up, by request, is hamburgers. At least I know I can find Kraft Singles here.

ETA: They must have liked it, because by breakfast it was all gone. Back to hardboiled eggs in chili sauce, potato croquettes, and some potato lentil soupy thing over rice for me.

Ugh, can't seem to upload the photo. It's here:

No comments:

Post a Comment