Pérez’s mother made this Puerto Rican comfort food for him as a child. “I didn’t appreciate her espaguetis as a kid, but today I embrace it,” says Pérez, who now teaches his students at Urban Pilón, a Caribbean–Latin American educational initiative that offers virtual cooking classes, how to make the hearty noodle dish. He says pasta came to the island by way of Italian immigrants and U.S. military personnel, and locals personalized it by mixing in Caribbean spices and seasonings. With the exception of the jarred adobo seasoning, Pérez’s version is strictly from scratch. “My mission is to change the way people think of Puerto Rican and Caribbean food; I want them to think ‘natural’ and not store-bought.”
Makes 4 servings
|1½||Spanish onions, diced, divided|
|16||Garlic cloves, thinly sliced, divided|
|1||Cubanelle pepper, seeded and chopped|
|10||Ají dulce peppers, seeded and chopped|
|1 bunch||Cilantro, chopped|
|1 bunch||Culantro, chopped|
|Salt and pepper|
|3 tsp.||Olive oil, plus more for the sofrito|
|½ lb.||Boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes|
|2 Tbsp.||Jarred adobo seasoning, plus more as needed (Pérez’s own version is available at Urban Pilón)|
|½ tsp.||Dried oregano (“Crush it in a mortar and pestle to bring out the flavors and aromatics”)|
|¼ tsp.||Ground achiote or paprika|
|1 cup||Spanish-style tomato sauce (Pérez likes La Criolla brand)|
|1 cup||Halved button mushrooms|
1. Make the sofrito (flavor base): Combine 1 onion, 10 garlic cloves, Cubanelle pepper, ají dulce peppers, cilantro, culantro, and salt to taste in a food processor. Slowly drizzle in a little olive oil (just enough to moisten the mixture), and process until puréed. You can store the extra sofrito for about a week in the refrigerator.
2. Cook pasta in salted water until al dente according to package instructions. Reserve ½ cup pasta water, then drain pasta and set aside. Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium and add 3 tablespoons olive oil. Season chicken with adobo, making sure to fully coat it. Cook until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, then add remaining garlic and onions and cook until onions are translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add oregano and achiote and cook for 5 minutes.
3. Add 1 tablespoon of sofrito, then allow ingredients to cook down and come together, 3 to 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce and mix well to incorporate all the flavors. Add mushrooms and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Taste, then add salt and pepper as needed. Add cooked spaghetti and mix well. If you’d like the sauce to be thinner, gently stir in some of the reserved pasta water, and serve.