It started with a simple request: “I want spaghetti tonight.” I didn’t have any sauce precooked, and the thought of pasta sauce in a jar? No way. I refuse to use those from the grocery shelf since my first taste back in college. What spaghetti dish could I make with limited time and ingredients? The answer? Spaghetti Napolitan!
“Napolitan” sounds Italian, doesn’t it? Then why you haven’t heard of it? Because it isn’t real Italian, that’s why. (Spaghetti) Napolitan is a Japanese kids’ favorite that you can find on the menu at most of Japanese cafes. It’s spaghetti with onion, green pepper and mushroom with some kind of processed meat (such as bacon or ham) and ketchup. The Japanese created this dish after World War II. Japanese chefs at the Hotel New Grand, which GHQ requisitioned for a while, got the idea from observing American soldiers eating spaghetti with ketchup as their regular meal. So those hotel chefs probably thought why not, right? My exact thoughts: my husband loves ketchup, he puts that on everything, so why not?
I was so wrong. My husband said he didn’t like spaghetti with the flavor of ketchup. “But”, I said, “You like ketchup!” “Not with pasta!” But again, I said, “This is almost like omerice that you like.” Instead of answering, he quoted GoodFellas. “I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles and ketchup.” *Sigh* I can’t argue with one of the greatest movies ever, but still, all these Japanese kids grow up eating it and loving it! Are they schnooks? Why doesn’t my ketchup loving husband like it?
Adding insult to injury, he even said he’d rather have spaghetti with sauce from a jar. Although I doubt he’ll eat jarred pasta sauce, I guess he was expecting “real Italian” spaghetti, so receiving “ketchup” tasting pasta was disappointing. I thought this was ironic because ketchup was invented by Americans, and Napolitan was invented by the Japanese, so in theory, it’s a perfect “fusion” dish, right? Oh well, cook and learn!
As a Japanese person growing up in humid Tokyo, I love nothing more than cold noodles on a hot day. Although officially, the calendar says ‘fall’, in sunny Los Angeles, it seems like the weather forgot it’s October, as temperatures still soar into the upper 80s. With a forecast like that, is it surprising that my dinner menu still revolves around either salad or cold noodles? Well, maybe not for me, having grown up with cold Japanese pasta dishes, but for my husband, ‘cold’ and ‘noodles’ are two words that he’d prefer not to have listed together in a description of his dinner. Even though most Americans have embraced pasta salad, my husband is still a holdout. But I was feeling a bit adventurous and I sensed that he was tired of another salad dinner, so I got creative. I knew he wouldn’t eat Japanese soba or udon cold, but knowing that he loves caprese salad, I casually suggested a pasta dinner without mentioning anything about temperature. Sneaky, right?
When we visited Tokyo in July, the temperature was 100 and the humidity hovered around 95%. Not in the mood for something hot, I ordered a cold capellini pomodoro dish at an Italian restaurant. Between the delicious flavor and the small Japanese portion, I was convinced that I could eat ten servings of this masterpiece. Was my enthusiasm shared by my husband? Well, yes, if ‘meh’ is considered an expression of high praise. I knew he didn’t like Japanese-y cold soba broth (I’m suspecting the fish taste of the broth was enhanced when cold), but why not delicious tomato sauce with perfectly cooked, al dente capellini!? I was puzzled. With that memory in mind, you are probably wondering why I’d risk dinner on the chances that he’d enjoy a cold pasta dish? Call me a gambler, but I was hoping his fondness for caprese would outweigh his dislike of cold noodles.
Did my gamble pay off? Let’s just say if this were poker, I hit the royal flush. He loved it! Maybe now I won’t mind the high temps of fall in Los Angeles knowing we have a delicious dinner option. And now, so do you…
Here’s how to make the caprese sauce:
Heirloom tomatoes (cut into small bite sizes)
Fresh basil leaves (chopped)
White onion (small dices)
really good olive oil
really good salt
freshly grinded black pepper
White balsamic vinegar (or lemon juice)
fresh mozzarella cheese
Mix everything but cheese in a bowl. The ratio of tomato to basil to onion to cheese that you’re looking for is roughly: 5:1:2:3, while the ratio of olive oil to garlic to acid is 10:3:1
Keep in the fridge about 20 minutes
Add mozzarella a few minutes before mixing with pasta; adjust flavor with salt and pepper