I’ve always had this thing for Italians. And in a way they’ve had their thing for me, too. I went to Italy for a little bit after my dark days of gambling and replenished my soul in Genoa, Milano, and Venice. Then, during culinary school, I had the good fortune of hanging with many friends from the Italian neighborhoods Bensonhurst and Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, and Howard Beach, Bayside, and Middle Village in Queens, and even in New Brunswick, N.J.
Imagine this: a semitall Korean kid from LA in his mid to late 20s getting weird looks, then immediate hugs from grandmas and mamas. I’d be thrust into the kitchen with "Oh, you go to culinary school with my girl/boy? Let me show you a thing or two." Then they’d have me cook. This was my icebreaker, ’cause a Korean kid in Howard Beach walking a girl home ain’t that easy, son.
Once I cooked, even in my early days, it was magic. Big fat kisses from grandma as she let me stir the pot of tomatoes. So here you go, my $4 spaghetti. Tastes almost as good as the $24 one.
Recipe and excerpt courtesy of L.A. SON by Roy Choi, with Tien Nguyen and Natasha Phan.
After a quick brushing off of any dirt, put the mushrooms in a large pot and cover them with about 2 gallons of water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Strain the mushroom stock after about an hour and a half and reserve.
Meanwhile, combine the garlic and olive oil in a small saucepan and cook over the lowest flame possible, low and slow, for about 2 hours, stirring periodically until the garlic is a dark golden brown.
When the garlic is done, add the tomatoes along with all of their juice to another large pot. Bring the tomatoes to a boil then add the garlic confit to the pot, including the oil.
Add the mushroom stock to the tomato-garlic mixture, 1 gallon at first, and blend with a stick blender. You are looking for a smooth consistency. Add more stock if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Turn down the heat to the lowest flame and cook for about 2 hours, stirring the sauce periodically. Check for flavor and adjust the salt and pepper if necessary.
Heat up a big pot of water, add ½ teaspoon of salt and a touch of olive oil, and bring it to a boil. Cook the spaghetti just until it’s al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Drain and divide the spaghetti between all the bowls. Toss immediately with the sauce — about a cup of sauce for each bowl of spaghetti. Garnish with the basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Grandmas will kiss you, too.