Welcome to the first (and maybe only) episode of “The Clueless Chef”. Clueless Chef is tongue-in-cheek. I am no where near being a chef. The kitchen is not my forte. But I have been able to take recipes I have found, switch out and add ingredients, and come up with something tasty that my family and friends like that does not involve using all kinds of ingredients from scratch. And if you are a bit clueless in the kitchen, this easy to prepare recipe is pretty simple to do.
Allow about 45 minutes for prep time and cooking.
You will need a large, deep, 12 inch skillet/pan, preferably non-stick. If you don’t have a large skillet, use a large cooking pot. You will need a spoon to stir and break up ingredients. I prefer a wooden spoon with a straight edge at the bottom like the one in the photo. You will also need measuring spoons and a large measuring cup.
The brand names of the first two ingredients are very important.
- Durkee Spicy Pasta Seasoning. Three heaping table spoons. This is THE magic secret ingredient. Trust me on this. There is nothing else like this stuff (except for a Tones spicy seasoning which was identical but is now very hard to find). I have been testing different seasonings for several years but this is far and away the very best. You can buy it at Amazon and other places online. Using Durkee Spicy Pasta Seasoning will make a big difference in the final result.
- RAO’s Homemade Tomato and Basil Sauce. This is great stuff. It is twice the price of my second favorite sauce, but well worth it. If you can’t find this brand, get Classico Tomato and Basil which is my second place favorite sauce. You will use 12 ounces (1/2 of a 24 ounce jar). If you can’t find one of these two brands, find some kind of tomato and basic sauce (and I will pray that the cooking gods will forgive you).
- Mild Italian Sausage. One pound. I’ve made skillet spaghetti for family and friends in several states using lots of grocery stores, so I’ve learned some store brands are great and some not so much. If your store brand is lacking in flavor try Johnsonville Mild Italian Sausage.
- Olive oil – 2-3 tablespoons
- One medium onion
- Minced Garlic – 2 teaspoons
- One 14.5 oz. can of Italian style diced tomatoes
- One 8 oz. can of tomato sauce
- 8 oz. (1/2 package) of thin spaghetti, broken into fourths
- 1/2 cup (or more) of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 cups of water
If the sausage is frozen, defrost it long before you prepare the spaghetti. Break the strands of thin spaghetti into fourths, so you have pieces about 2 inches long. Dice one medium onion (or 1/2 of a large onion). Measure out 2 tsp. of minced garlic. Open the cans with a can opener. Put two cups of water into a large measuring cup.
Open the shredded sharp cheddar cheese, get a clean spoon and sample the cheese to make sure it is ok. Besides, you will need the nourishment to get through the meal prep.
MAKE THE MEAT SAUCE
Turn the burner to medium heat and put the skillet on the burner. Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the pan. When the oil begins to “shimmer” on the surface, put the diced onion into the pan.
Stir regularly as you sweat down the onion pieces so they don’t burn. It will take 3-5 minutes for the diced onion to get soft.
Clear out an area in the middle of the onions and put the minced garlic in the middle. Let it sizzle for about 30 seconds. Then mix the garlic and onions together for another 30 seconds.
Put the mild Italian sausage on the onion garlic mix. Then use the squared end of the wooden spoon to separate the sausage into cubes about one inch on a side.
There is a reason I divide the sausage into cubes. I like how it looks when I am done! But I confess it makes no difference in the final outcome.
As the sausage browns, break up the sausage cubes into smaller and smaller pieces until you have a bunch of little sausage crumbles. Do this until all the sausage is browned and mixed with the onions and garlic.
Pour the can of Italian style diced tomatoes into the pan. Pour a little of your two cups of water into the can to swirl around the can to get most of the rest out of the tomatoes out of the can and pour it into the pan. Do the same with the tomato sauce and use a little water to get it all the sauce out of the can and into the pan. Pour 1/2 jar (12 oz) of RAO’s Homemade Tomato and Basil Sauce into the pan. Pour the rest of the 2 cups of water into the pan. Stir the ingredients together. Then turn the burner to high and bring everything to a rolling boil.
Once everything is boiling, stir everything well. Then put three heaping tablespoons of Durkee Spicy Pasta Seasoning into the pan and mix it in. Don’t skimp. I won’t turn you in to the spice police if you use 4 heaping tablespoons. It helps if you use the bottom of the wooden spoon to moosh the seasoning into the mix since it tends to float on the surface. Stir everything for a minute of so.
With the burner still on high, let everything again come to a rolling boil. Then turn the burner from high down to low and let everything simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes. This allows the flavors to get into the meat. Stir every 5 minutes. As water evaporates the surface of the sauce will drop a bit in the pan, maybe by 1/2 inch.
While you are waiting, get out another clean spoon and try some more shredded sharp cheddar cheese, just to make sure it hasn’t gone bad since you started cooking.
ADD THE SPAGHETTI
After the 15-20 minute simmer, turn the burner back up to high and bring everything back up to a rolling boil.
Pour the spaghetti pieces into the boiling mixture and stir everything well.
Do your best to push all of the spaghetti under the surface of the liquid sauce.
When all the spaghetti is submerged, or as close as you can get to that, turn the burner back down to medium low and put a cover on the pan. Let everything cook for 10-20 minutes. More about this later.
It is very important not to let any of the spaghetti sit on the bottom of the pan and burn. Take the lid off every 2 minutes and stir the spaghetti for 30 seconds. Use the flat edge of the spoon to scrape the entire bottom (inside) surface of the pan to make sure no spaghetti is sticking. Turn the spaghetti as you stir it to bring the spaghetti on the bottom up to the top.
So you are going to be busy. Cover and cook for 2 minutes. Uncover and stir for 30 seconds. Cover and cook for 2 more minutes, then uncover and stir for another 30 seconds. Just keep that up until the spaghetti is cooked. If the mix starts to look too dry, or you are having a hard time keeping the spaghetti from burning, pour in a little more water, and stir some more.
During one of your two minute waiting times, you should probably get another clean spoon and try some more shredded sharp cheddar cheese, just to make sure it hasn’t gone bad.
Depending on your stove and the heat from the burner, it will take 10-20 minutes for the spaghetti to be “done”. You want the spaghetti to be “al dente”, which mean “to the tooth”. That means you want the spaghetti to have a bit of “bite” so it is not too soft and mushy, but not too hard and crunchy. At around 10 minutes take a clean table spoon and fish out some spaghetti and taste it. If it is too crunchy, keep cooking (and stirring). Then get another clean tablespoon a couple of minutes later and try it again. The more you cook this dish, the better you will get at figuring out when to start testing the done-ness of the spaghetti. Based on your stove and burner setting you may not need to test the spaghetti at 10 minutes. You might start testing at 12 or 14 minutes. Keep in mind the spaghetti will cook a bit after you turn off the burner in the next step.
As soon as the spaghetti is “done”, turn the burner off immediately. Sprinkle a generous amount of cheddar cheese (1/2 to 1 cup) on the surface of the spaghetti. Then put the lid back on the pan and let the cheese melt for 2 minutes. Then uncover and serve, right out of the pan.