Filipino Spaghetti

People make fun of my almost reverent attitude toward this dish, but there’s something extremely comforting in slurping up a heaping plate of old school Filipino spaghetti. Growing up, my parents were always working, so often times I’d come home from school and run to the fridge to find my mom’s spaghetti sauce in one tupperware and pre-cooked spaghetti in another. Put one on top of the other, pop it into the microwave… and bam, home cooked meal in 5 minutes or less. It didn’t occur to me until I was well into my teenage years that this is not your typical spaghetti. A guy friend of mine had come over and bee-lined it to the fridge [why are teenage boys always hungry?] and immediately spotted pasta and had me make him some. Like a good little host, I plated some for the both of us and we immediately plopped onto the couch while I happily gobbled mine away. It took me a second to realize he was sitting there with a quizzical look on his face and *gasp* not eating. The conversation went something like this:

me: Umm… you ok? You don’t like it?
boy: It’s not that… but… why does it have hot dogs in it? And you put cheddar on it? And… is it supposed to be sweet?
me: Uhh… yeah. Isn’t it?

Filipino spaghetti isn’t what you’d call typical. It is sweet with a little kick of spice, cheddar cheese (instead of dry + sharp parmesan) and yes: hot dogs. Ask me which I’d prefer and 9 times out of 10, I’ll take the less-refined, sweet yet savory, hot dog packed pasta over perfectly balanced [and almost as tasty] Italian spaghetti.

First step is to make the base sauce which is actually an Italian recipe. This is one of my favorite sauces because it’s perfect alone but it’s also a great sauce to build from.

alt: This step takes approx. 45-minutes. You can cut this out completely and use a ready-made sauce like Prego. BUT… if you do have the time, I highly recommend making the base sauce. Since you’d be using a ready-made sauce you’ll be working with something with it’s own flavor profile when making the Filipino version. Basically it takes a lot longer [and a lot more sugars] to get that sweet but slightly spicy taste.

basic tomato sauce [adapted from marcela hazan’s essentials of classic italian cooking]
1 can of san marzano tomatoes [or 28 ounces of peeled roma tomatoes in a can]
1 medium sized yellow onion – peeled + cut in half
5 tablespoons of unsalted butter [about 3/4 of a stick]
salt + pepper to taste

Pour the entire can of tomatoes (including sauce / juices) + onion + butter into a sauce pan over medium heat. I used a 3-quart pan my first time making this sauce and it worked perfectly. Bring the sauce to a simmer and lower the heat to continue that soft simmer for about 45-minutes.

Stir occasionally and using a wooden spoon, crush the tomatoes against the side of the pot. You can also add salt + pepper to taste. You’ll know the sauce is ready when the tomatoes have fully broken down… this sauce is simple, velvety and delicious (and goes great on it’s own on top of spaghetti]. Discard the onions [or do what I do and stick it in a tupperware for later use. For example: I made a chicken parmesan sandwich with this sauce + the onions].

filipino spaghetti [makes 2 trays of spaghetti… or a whole lotta leftovers]
garlic – 2 or 3 large cloves, peeled + minced
1 tbspn butter / margarine
1lb lean-ground beef
tomato sauce (a 24oz jar makes for a meaty sauce)
1 cup brown sugar
granulated sugar to taste
2 cups grated mild cheddar
3-4 hotdogs – cut diagonally into bite sized pieces
spicy banana ketchup “tamis anghang” / hot sauce to taste
(2) 16 oz boxes of spaghetti

Melt about a tablespoon of butter (or margarine) in a large pot over medium heat [I use my 6qt dutch oven because it cooks slowly and evenly]. Once the butter has fully melted, add in the garlic and sauté then add the meat making sure stir with a wooden spoon so the meat separates + cooks evenly.

Once the meat has browned add your sauce and bring to a boil then add about a cup of brown sugar. Stir in the sugar + add hotdogs + half of your grated cheese + ketchup / hot sauce and let sit for at least 10 minutes before tasting [this is to make sure the sugar deconstructs, and the flavors combine together]. At this point it really depends on how sweet you want to go. Once the brown sugar has been added I tend to use granulated sugar a little bit at a time, because the sweetness is much more obvious so I don’t have to use as much. I add about a 1/4 cup at a time and always wait 5-10 minutes before tasting and adding more. Realize at this point the sauce shouldn’t taste at it’s “full” sweetness. This is because you’re going to turn the heat all the way down to low and let it sit on this low heat for at least an hour (or 3 if you have the time). Something magical happens during this “rest” period in which the sugars fully deconstruct and the sauce becomes a heavenly blend of sweet + spicy.

About 30 minutes before you think you’ll die if you don’t have some spaghetti, pull out another large pot, fill with water, add a generous helping of salt + bring to a boil [that whole add olive oil to keep noodles from sticking together is a myth but salt does help it come to temperature faster]. Toss in the spaghetti, cook for about 8-10 minutes until al dente then pour into a colander under cold water to stop the cooking process [and *gasp* to keep the noodles from sticking]. Once you’ve drained all the water simply combine everything into the trays. I usually do a little spaghetti + sauce at a time to make sure the sauce gets to the very bottom. Once you’ve filled the trays, add a bit more sauce on top, sprinkle with your last cup of grated cheddar and enjoy!

alt. When I’m not making this dish for a party — or a regular dinner at home with my large Filipino family — I still make the same amount of sauce but just enough pasta for me. The rest of the sauce I stick in a tupperware and pull out whenever I’m hankering for good ol’ Filipino spaghetti (which is every subsequent night until the sauce is gone).

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Reading this all back to myself, it sounds complicated and a lot of work, but I promise you it’s not. If you don’t make the basic tomato sauce it’s about 10-15 minutes of prep time, 3 hours of reading a book / watching tv / going to the gym so you don’t feel bad about the massive amounts of pasta you’re about to eat… while waiting for your sauce to be ready. AND, it’s only about 10 minutes of clean-up (you’ll have to wash one knife, one cutting board, 2 large pots [one for the sauce + one for the pasta], + one colander. Easy Peezy.]

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