If you binged "The Bear" this summer and it left you in awe of chefs, you're not alone. The high-stakes, fast-paced, injury-inducing environment portrayed on the show is a crash course in the reality of the restaurant workers who feed us. And fans are eating it up: FX's surprise smash hit has an astonishing 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, while FX Chairman John Landgraf said "The Bear" is likely their most-watched half-hour show ever. No wonder it was immediately renewed for a second season.
Luckily, you don't have to be chef Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, played by Jeremy Allen White, to enjoy one of the most important dishes at the fictional "The Original Beef of Chicagoland." Like many inspired viewers, actress Mindy Kaling took to her kitchen to recreate the "family meal spaghetti" and proclaimed the recipe "freaking delicious."
In fact, it was such a success it prompted TODAY's Craig Melvin to tell her she should have her own cooking show! "From your lips to God's ears," Kaling responded, laughing. "I would love that, that would be amazing."
Since Kaling said this spaghetti was "easy and delicious" to make at home, I decided to give it a try, too. The team at Rao’s Homemade reached out with a recipe they put together based on Kaling’s video (and other sources of inspiration across the internet) to make things even easier.
But first, I had some questions about the steps, which involve making a garlic and basil-infused oil that you blend before adding to the tomatoes.
For answers, I turned to New York-based chef Sal Lamboglia, whose restaurant Cafe Spaghetti in Brooklyn has also enjoyed major success this summer. He joined TODAY recently to share some of his secrets for another spaghetti recipe. But spaghetti pomodoro, as seen on "The Bear," is "definitely the most recognizable pasta dish in the world," according to Lamboglia.
“It’s classic, it’s recognizable and it’s simple. You don’t need many ingredients and it’s fun to make. As kids (and still today) we would always run to the kitchen when my mom was making sauce and dunk chunks of bread in it! For me it’s comfort and most importantly it’s home!”
In her video, Kaling adds the basil, stems and all, into the oil. For some reason, one of my least favorite chores as a kid was picking fresh herb leaves off the stems to help my mom (my personal favorite chef) with dinner prep. Could we have been using the whole enchilada, so to speak, the whole time?!
"Have you ever tried a basil stem?! They carry lots of flavor and it’s something that should never go to waste," Lamboglia said. "So many times basil stems get looked over and thrown away. Imagine all the basil stems that don’t get used just from the amount of pesto that is made daily!"
OK, lesson learned — use your stems! Now, how about that infused oil? Why put all that garlic and basil flavor into the oil rather than cooking them with the tomatoes?
"The oil is VERY important when making sauce," Lamboglia said. "It’s the base of most sauces and it helps when it’s as flavorful as it can be. Of course you can still season your tomatoes, but it helps to initiate all that goodness early on in the process!"
Lamboglia knows what he's talking about. The scent of the garlic and basil simmering in olive oil instantly made my Brooklyn apartment smell like a restaurant. Once that part was finished, I poured it into a bowl to let it cool and used the same pan to start on the tomatoes, because unlike Carmy, I unfortunately do not have a crew of friendly dishwashers cleaning up behind me. The onions get browned in butter before you add the tomatoes, and let me tell you, when that wafts through the air it is as swoon-worthy as a certain actor that certain other people have been admiring lately.
In all, the recipe took me about an hour to make, but it is indeed easy as promised — and with just a few pantry ingredients that prove sometimes simplicity is best. I liked not having to chop the onion, which is only there to impart flavor and is removed from the sauce once it's finished simmering. That way, the only tears you'll be crying are tears of joy at how good it is.
Mindy Kaling’s “The Bear” Spaghetti Recipe (Adapted by Rao's Homemade)
- 1 pound spaghetti (Kaling used Rao’s Homemade Spaghetti)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 5 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
- 1 bunch fresh basil
- 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
- 1/2 stick of butter
- 1 onion
- 28-oz can San Marzano tomatoes
- Parmesan and more basil for garnish
Combine the 1/2 cup of olive oil, five smashed and peeled garlic cloves, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and your handful of fresh basil (stems and all!) in a small saucepan. Turn the heat to medium-low. Once the mixture comes up to a boil, let it simmer for 1–2 minutes or until the basil is wilted. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to steep while you start the sauce.
Slice your onion in half through the root and peel off the papery skins. Leave the halved sections intact, since you’ll be fishing the onion halves out of the sauce a little bit later. Add a half stick of unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon of neutral oil to a large pot. Once the butter is melted and just beginning to brown, place the onion halves into the pot, cut-side down. Let the onions sear for 2–3 minutes, or until the cut sides start to turn golden brown.
Carefully add the canned tomatoes to the butter and oil. Use a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes into smaller pieces. Once the tomato sauce is boiling, turn the heat to low. Season to taste with salt, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and simmer for 20–25 minutes.
Once the oil mixture has cooled, pour it into the bowl of a food processor. Process for 20–30 seconds or until the basil and garlic are chopped into tiny pieces. If you don’t have a food processor, you can mince the basil and garlic by hand and then return to the oil.
Add the basil oil to the simmering tomato sauce, and stir until thoroughly combined. Now’s a great time to taste and season with additional salt, as needed. Not all canned tomatoes taste the same, so if your sauce tastes a little too acidic, you can add a 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to raise the pH a bit and cut some of that bite. Let the sauce continue to simmer, uncovered, for 10 more minutes. Once it’s thickened to your liking, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool slightly.
To serve, remove and discard both onion halves. Toss the al dente spaghetti into the pot and thoroughly coat with the sauce.