I do know that Aria Cucina Italiana is still open for business but I am not sure if they still serve pasta with brandied tomato sauce. I enjoyed the dish at the restaurant by the beach back in 2014. I haven’t been back to Boracay since and I have no plans of going back any time soon.
I never really liked Boracay. My experience of the island had mostly been huge crowds, sweltering heat and bad shopping. It turned out that there is a right time to visit Boracay to really appreciate it. Never go in the summer; rather, go off-season when the weather is friendlier and the crowds are thinner. That was what happened in September of 2014.
Not a lot of people go to the beach during the Habagat season when the southwest winds blow, the weather is often humid and rains fall in torrents. But the September Boracay trip with friends from U.P. College of Law was planned and paid for as early as February and, despite the threat that it might rain non-stop, we went. It did rain occasionally but that was a benefit rather than a drawback because every rainfall cooled the air and lolling by the sea sipping mojitos and piña coladas became the ultimate pleasure there could ever be.
And then there was the food. We walked, we took tricycle rides, rode on scary lifts and hopped over puddles to get to where the good food was. And we feasted.
The first meal was at Aria Cucina Italiana. One of the dishes we ordered was pasta al fume with creamy tomato sauce that is made subtly sweet by brandy and contrastingly salty with the addition of emmenthal cheese.
I was so smitten with the idea of adding brandy to pasta sauce. It’s usually wine. But brandy? That was new to me and, to be honest, endlessly intriguing. When I got home days later, I experimented and came up with this spaghetti with sardines in brandied tomato sauce.
Making the sauce begins by sauteeing tomatoes, onion, garlic and oregano in olive oil. Cook them down gently until the vegetables are soft.
You pour in the brandy and you let everything boil gently, uncovered, to allow the strong alcohol smell and taste to dissipate. Then, you season — just salt and pepper — and simmer the sauce until thick.
To that thick sauce, you add your sardines. Use a spatula to break them into small pieces then stir them into the sauce.
Simmer the sauce, uncovered, until very little liquid collects on the edges.
Toss in cooked pasta and cook until the noodles are heated through and coated with the sauce.
Spaghetti with sardines in brandied tomato sauce
- 4 tablespoons olive oil (doesn’t have to be extra virgin)
- 2 cups finely chopped tomatoes
- ½ cup finely chopped onions
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 pinches dried oregano
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 2 generous splashes brandy
- 6 sardines (see notes after the recipe)
- cooked pasta any shape, for two persons
- 1 cup shredded cheese
- snipped parsley to garnish
- Heat the olive oil. Add the tomatoes, onions and garlic. Sprinkle in the oregano. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables soften a bit.
- Add the brandy. Stir. Allow to cook uncovered for a few minutes. Taste the sauce and add more salt and pepper, as needed. Cover, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Add the sardines, breaking them into smaller pieces.
- Continue cooking the sauce, uncovered over medium heat, until chunky and almost dry.
- Taste the sauce one last time and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Remember though that you will be adding a lot of cheese so go easy on the salt.
- Turn off the heat. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss well.
- Add the cheese to the pasta. Toss to distribute evenly.
- Sprinkle the pasta with snipped parsley before serving.