Mom’s Spaghetti

Ever since I was young, I’ve always thought that my mom makes the best spaghetti ever. And I do mean that very seriously—nothing compares to the orange heaven that is my mom’s spaghetti. A few years ago, a family friend from Italy invited us over for dinner. While she made some of the most delicious pastas I’ve ever had, my mom’s spaghetti still reigns supreme.

In the Philippines, spaghetti is seen more as a snack than a full-fledged meal, and it’s usually very sweet when compared to the spaghetti we eat here in the United States. That’s why if you go to Jollibee or a McDonald’s in the Philippines, you’ll notice the spaghetti will taste totally different! (And, yes! They have spaghetti!) My mom says that every Filipino person has a different way of making their spaghetti. Hers has more garlic, is less sweet, and uses bacon instead of hot dogs. But for what it lacks in sugar, it makes up for in flavor.

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In the summer before ninth grade, I took a cooking class as part of Senior DECATS, a selective summer program only available to academically talented students who attended a Catholic middle school. It was my first real exposure to cooking—and also where I learned I enjoy tasting food more than making it! For our biggest group cooking challenge, we had to prepare the best spaghetti we could.

Well, actually, we were told we needed to find one of the teaching assistants who had been hidden in the park across the street, with the first group getting to pick their ingredients first—much like a MasterChef competition. But that’s a story my thirteen-, almost fourteen-year-old self told on my personal blog, Kuya’s Notebook, after it happened, complete with blurry iPhone pictures and full recollections of middle school students trying to get out of cleaning for the day.

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For the competition, we were allowed any resources we had access to. Most people turned to the Internet. I turned to my mom. My group was initially skeptical, valuing the “professional” recipes found on the first page of a Google search over some random mother’s recipe, but I convinced them to give it a try.

“Mom, how do I make your spaghetti?” I remember frantically texting, hoping I’d get a response quick enough. Sure enough, my mom pulled through giving me detailed instructions of how to make everything. Only one problem stood in my way (other than having no ability to cook): the kitchen pantry.

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The kitchen pantry was woefully under-stocked, due in part to the limited funds of the instructor and the large size of the course, two unfortunate facts that often led us to having to bring in our own ingredients toward the end of the three-week class. In the case of our spaghetti, it meant having to cut out the sugar entirely—the pantry only had powdered sugar that was left over from our attempts at baking the week before—and relying on garlic, salt, and pepper instead.

Looking back, the spaghetti didn’t really taste that much like my mom’s. My mom always used Hunt’s tomato sauce and for the competition we only had access to a generic can of diced tomatoes, which we had to squash to get the sauce. The lack of sugar made our spaghetti more sour than my mom’s. The pasta we were using was thicker than the Barilla-brand spaghetti my mom likes, and the fact that we were a bunch of thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds trying to make a dish for the first time in a timed, competitive setting really didn’t help. But it was still a damn good spaghetti. (At least comparatively.)

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My team, The Lion’s Whiskers (we wanted a pun on whisking, but I have no idea where the lion came from), ended up winning first place that day, garnishing our spaghetti with mushrooms and a random spinach leaf—it was sort of close to basil, right?—just to give it more color. We didn’t win on our garnish—looking back on the picture makes me laugh a little—but we won on what counted: the taste. “I’ve never tried any spaghetti like this before,” I remember the instructor saying. “It’s really interesting!”

Back then, I tried to describe it as a Filipino spaghetti, which was technically correct since my mom is from the Philippines. But now, I’d more accurately describe it as “my mom’s spaghetti.” While it was partly true that I was sharing Filipino culture on a plate back in mid-June three years ago, it was really me opening up my mom’s kitchen to the class, sharing a piece of our family cuisine with everyone there.

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So from my mom’s kitchen to yours, I’d like to share with you my mom’s spaghetti. In the spirit of Senior DECATS three years ago, we garnished this spaghetti with a random green leaf from our fridge just to give it more color. And in the absence of chopped mushrooms that really had no place in that recipe, we added some cherry tomatoes and olive oil that also have no place in this recipe… just for the picture. (Thankfully, bread is at least reasonable to eat with spaghetti!) If you’re as addicted to taking food pictures as I am, I’m sure you understand.

While my mom swears by Hunt’s tomato sauce and Barilla’s spaghetti, feel free to use your favorite brands. Specifically if you change the tomato sauce, be ready to make changes to the amount of sugar, salt, and pepper you use.

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Mom's Spaghetti

  • Servings: Enough for a family of 4, with lots of leftovers
  • Difficulty: So easy, middle schoolers can do it.
  • Print

Note: The directions for the sauce will leave you a lot left over. My mom likes to freeze the extra for the next time she makes spaghetti so she doesn’t have to remake the sauce again.

Ingredients

  • 4 strips of bacon
  • 8 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 3 cartons of Hunt’s tomato sauce (1 carton is 33.5 oz)
  • 4 tbsp of sugar
  • 2 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of pepper
  • 1 box of Barilla’s spaghetti (1 lb)

Directions

  1. Cut the bacon into ¼-inch slices.
  2. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil into a large pot.
  3. Add slices of bacon into pot and turn on to medium heat.
  4. Add minced garlic and tomato sauce and stir.
  5. Add sugar and stir.
  6. Scatter salt and pepper over sauce and stir.
  7. Let the sauce simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes. Make sure to keep stirring it. If sauce gets too thick, add ½ cup of water to thin it out.
  8. In a separate pot, fill with water, and turn the heat to high. Leave the pot covered.
  9. When the water is boiling, add 1 tsp of salt and the uncooked spaghetti noodles. Keep stirring until the pasta is al dente.
  10. When cooked, drain the spaghetti, add sauce to it, and mix. We think a good ratio is 4 cups of sauce to each box of spaghetti.
  11. Serve with parmesan cheese and toasted bread.

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