Anellini Con Cacio e Pepe, or, Spaghetti Hoops With Cheese & Pepper, 41p | 15 Minutes | One Pan | JACK MONROE

This recipe first appeared in Tin Can Cook, my fourth cookbook, and one that started off as a passion project and ended up being my bestselling book to date, with around 20,000 copies donated to people in food poverty in the UK. (For which I tip my hat to The Trussell Trust, for facilitating the administration of thousands of books throughout their network to get them into the hands of those who may benefit most from a copy, and you, my dear and generous readers, who ‘paid a copy forward’ in your droves. I’m still stunned by the love and kindness so many of you actively and immediately demonstrated, putting your hands in your own pockets to purchase books for people who you didn’t even know but wanted to help. You’re truly an amazing community, and I’m blessed to be a small part of it.)

First and foremost, although A Girl Called Jack had been largely drafted using the contents of my food bank parcels throughout 2012 and thereabouts, I was acutely aware that with the increasing squeeze on household budgets, the sharp rises in the cost of the most basic groceries, and the spiralling need for food banks, there was a need for something simpler. Something written specifically around the commonly donated items to the food banks cropping up faster than McDonalds branches here in the UK. Tinned food has been largely seen as unfashionable and quaint in recent years; some television chefs almost giggle rapturously when they deign to use a can of tomatoes in a recipe, as though it’s something naughty, something for ‘other people’. Guys, it’s not exactly contentious class warfare in a can here, it’s a concentrated and shelf stable dollop of lycopene and Vitamin C with a perfect sweetness-to-acidity balance and a gloriously pleasing colour. Get a grip, for goodness sake.

Anyway, I digress. I pitched Tin Can Cook to my publisher, who has always been entirely supportive of all of my work, not just the food writing, and she recognised the significance of it, both on a personal level but also a much wider one. I contacted food banks to ask which items they tended to get a lot of, or that they felt could do with jazzing up a little, and I set to work. This is turning into a rather long introduction, but yesterday I stumbled across someone mocking this recipe on Twitter, so I guess I’m just defensively laying out the context and the concept once and for all. It’s not even an SEO wheeze, because this blog isn’t currently running ads; I just run my mouth through my fingertips once in a while when I have something to say.

Basically, this was a cheeky idea for using up canned spaghetti that wasn’t a variation on the tomato sauce. The brief for it came from a food bank that I was working with at the time, and a real human beings real situation that I tried to help out with in some small way. If your instinct is to mock it, perhaps consider that someone somewhere may only have a can of spaghetti hoops in their cupboard for their tea tonight, and some dregs of whatever in the fridge, and be desperately wondering how to make a meal from it that isn’t just hoofing them cold from the tin in the dark. Many people don’t have the luxury of a working oven or hob; they might be living in a B&B or hostel, having fled abuse, or lost their home in a fire, or other unimaginably difficult circumstances. Perhaps, at 13p for a can of spaghetti and 23p for the dried stuff, that 10p difference is actually insurmountable in someone else’s meagre budget. Perhaps the gas card has run out and they have to cobble something together in the microwave. Perhaps depression has suffocated their cognitive function, minutes float into half days and unwatched saucepans burn to ruin. Perhaps they just want something quick and comforting and mindless and simple. Perhaps if your instinct is to sneer, you could take a step back and rigorously examine the everyday privileges that mean none of the above circumstances have ever crossed your mind. Like having an oven, a working hob, gas on the gas card, the physical ability to stand for 15 minutes to prepare a meal, the mental capacity to plan and execute even boiling pasta, the 10p in your food budget that lets you unthinkingly pick up the dried spaghetti and not hover over the tin. And let me tell you from bitter experience, that ten pence deficit feels like ten grand when you just simply haven’t got it, and like winning the lottery when you find it in the gutter outside the supermarket while trying to fill a shopping basket with a handful of change.

So yes, this is an absurdly simple recipe, and at first glance it may seem absolutely bonkers. But if you’re more outraged by a budget food writer rinsing a can of spaghetti hoops off to make an absolutely bastardised riff on a cacio e pepe, than you are at the system that’s forced millions of people into food poverty and to the doors of food banks to receive those spaghetti hoops in the first place, I dare say you might just have your priorities askew.

Serves 1, from 41p each

1 x 400g (or thereabouts) tin of spaghetti hoops or spaghetti in tomato sauce, 16p (16p/395g tin, Just Essentials at Asda)

1 tbsp butter, soft spread, or light cooking oil, 5p (75p/250g, Best For Baking Block, Asda)

40g cheese, 18p (£3.65/825g mature white cheddar, Just Essentials at Asda)

a pinch of salt, <1p (30p/750g, Asda)

a pinch or two of black pepper, <1p (£1/100g, TRS at Asda)

First, tip your spaghetti hoops into a sieve or colander, and gently rinse off the tomato sauce. (See below for tips on keeping it if the thought of sloshing it down the sink doesn’t sit well with you!) Transfer your now-naked hoops to a microwave-safe bowl.

Microwave on full power for 90 seconds, pause, and microwave for 30 seconds more. If you don’t have a microwave, you can tip them into a saucepan and heat them gently on the hob; they may fall apart a little as they’re already quite delicate, but the end result will still be delicious.

Remove the pasta from the microwave and finely grate the cheese over the top. Add the butter or oil and stir in quickly while the hoops are still piping hot to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy immediately.

*About that tomato sauce. If you want to keep it, it can be used in any recipe that calls for tomato puree, but bear in mind it’ll be a lot thinner and slightly sweeter, so will need reducing down in a vigorous boil to concentrate it. Don’t rinse the hoops under the tap for this, instead decant them into a large bowl or jug, and fill the can halfway full with cold water. Pour most of the cold water into the bowl with the hoops and sauce, and mix very gently to thin the sauce. Then pass it through a sieve or colander, using the remaining water from the can to knock off any stubborn clingy bits. Transfer the now-very-runny sauce to a clean jar with a lid, and pop it in the fridge or freezer until you want to use it.

All text copyright Jack Monroe, not to be reproduced without the explicit written permission of the author.


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1 Comment »

  1. Jack, I just wanted to say that I think you are wonderful. I’ve got the recipe book but we’ve not tried this one, and seeing it on the blog reminded me of it. We actually got given some tins of hoops on Olio last week, it must be fate! On a more personal note, I know that being a very empathetic person is hard. I am autistic and highly empathetic, to the point where I feel everyone else’s emotions and it’s overwhelming. I can’t help but think you might relate to that. It takes a lot to not just completely withdraw and try and put some good out into the world, and you’ve done that in spades. I know life’s not easy and you aren’t just a brave person forging ahead blah blah, but that makes you all the more amazing in my book. Keep your chin up treasure (as my nan used to say)

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