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I have been completely obsessed with spaghetti since around the age of three or four. When I was seven, I had a party and my mother made a cake that looked like spaghetti. It was spaghetti pomodoro, not arrabbiata, because I wasn’t into chilli at seven. But it looked just like the real thing. When, on tucking into it, I discovered it was only a cake, I burst into inconsolable tears. I ate spaghetti so often that my mother spoke to a therapist about it. And the therapist said, “Well, you know, people have cereal every day. People have salad every day.”
As to when my taste transferred to the spicier arrabbiata, I can’t exactly say… But it’s become as intense a passion as my single-minded pursuit of spaghetti pomodoro as a child.
I’m an artist, as is my husband Idris Khan, and, luckily for me, he’s really into chilli – spaghetti arrabbiata is our complete favourite thing. Every single person mentioned the obsession in the speeches at our wedding. It’s the thing that, apart from art, I think about the most. I even dream about spaghetti.
The traditional way of serving arrabbiata is with penne and I have a lot of arguments with Idris about this. Our relationship dipped a little when Idris refused to eat it with spaghetti. Everything was going well… years of eating it with spaghetti, despite the orthodoxy of penne. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, he said, “Actually, I don’t like spaghetti arrabbiata, I like penne.” And it really annoyed me. It’s slightly a sore thing. But, at the same time, I do get it: there’s a way the sauce coats penne that is pretty good.
Regardless of the pasta, it’s all about how you make the sauce. So few things go into it, and yet it tastes so different each time. It’s how much sugar you put in, how much garlic, what kind of olive oil you end up with, whether you use cherry tomatoes. All these little elements are so tiny, and yet if you change one just a bit it creates a completely different dish.
I used to start with onions, and sometimes finely chopped carrots, but that’s completely gone. Now I start with garlic and a little oil, then the chilli (I tend to go for flakes rather than fresh chilli), and I add a little butter. Then, in go either fresh tomatoes – which I do sometimes – or tins of tomatoes, with salt and a bit of sugar. If you want to mix it up, it tastes very different if you add a little splash of wine.
For around 10 years I made it with olive oil. And then one time I was talking to someone in Italy and he said no, no, no, you mustn’t use olive oil, it changes everything. You have to use vegetable oil, particularly sunflower oil, with the garlic. Because somehow that is a softer base. So we started doing that and then, at the end of the whole process, you add a little touch of olive oil. And it just is so much nicer now. I’m sad about all the years I didn’t do that.
Purists can be sniffy about serving it with cheese, but for me it is 100 per cent yes. I’m completely obsessed with Parmesan. I use it as a seasoning while it’s cooking, rather than adding too much salt. And then, also, a little rind. You can’t go wrong with a little rind of cheese as it’s cooking. When you serve it, obviously there should be more grated cheese, because you can never have enough Parmesan.
I never get bored with it; and I love repetition, whether in the kitchen or in my own artwork. It’s nuts, I’ve probably made it five billion times and it’s never the same.
Arrabbiata means angry. And I quite like angry things; I think they’re funny. There was a moment when I was thinking about doing an arrabbiata book with a friend, and we were going to call it The Angry Italian, because he’s a really good cook and we were going to make it purely about doing variants on this recipe. I was going to do all the drawings. The Angry Italian felt like a good title for a book.
Annie Morris’ spaghetti arrabbiata
1tsp vegetable oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1tsp chilli flakes
2 tins of San Marzano tomatoes
1tsp grated Parmesan
Pinch of salt
Pinch of sugar
100g-200g spaghetti per person (depending if you want seconds or not)
To serve: 1tbsp of the cooking water, Parmesan and olive oil
Heat the oil and butter together and add the garlic and sauté until it is slightly golden. Add the chilli flakes and stir, then pour in the tins of tomatoes and add the Parmesan, salt and sugar. Cook for the time it takes to boil the water and cook the spaghetti. Stir the cooked spaghetti into the sauce, adding a tablespoon of the cooking water and serve with lots of Parmesan and a little olive oil.
Annie Morris has an online exhibition of paintings and a new bronze sculpture edition at Timothy Taylor in September.
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