I’m rarely one to sing my own praises. But I do make a mean arrabbiata sauce.
It all starts with the right tomatoes. My favourite are the San Marzano variety, but you can use any that are vine ripened and low acidity. I roast them low and slow, until the sweetness is literally bursting from the skins.
Next comes the garlic, which I’ll sauté gently in olive oil to release the flavour. I have one rule when it comes to garlic: if in doubt, use extra.
And then of course there is the chilli. Arrabbiata is the Italian word for ‘angry’, so the sauce wouldn’t be complete without a good kick. Traditionally the recipe uses dried chilli flakes, but I find that a fresh hot pepper (or two) really brings it to life.
These ingredients are then combined and simmered for a good few hours to marry the flavours to precision. Only when the whole house is infused with the fragrance of arrabbiata is it time to garnish with a few fresh basil leaves and serve.
Arrabbiata is a simple recipe, but it relies heavily on the intricate flavours of each individual ingredient. Lose one, and you can kiss goodbye to your pursuit of pasta perfection.
Without the tomatoes there would be no base. Take out the garlic and you lose the depth of flavour. Omit the chilli and there is no kick, no ‘anger’ that makes arrabbiata so special.
As with any good recipe, every ingredient in arrabbiata matters. We know that we couldn’t expect a Michelin starred meal made with half the items on the shopping list.
So why should the recipe be any different when it comes to our health?
In today’s ‘quick fix’ culture I see far too many people trying to shortcut their way to wellness by putting all their focus onto one ingredient. It’s the equivalent of dropping whole garlic cloves on top of your pasta and calling it a sauce.
Usually, the ingredient they focus on is food. As the owner of a nutrition company I’ll be the first to tell you how important it is to put the right things in your body. But it’s not the ONLY thing that’s important.
Just like an arrabbiata needs more than just tomatoes, we need so much more than just a healthy diet to function optimally.
If the road to good health was a supermarket, then far too many of us are still stuck in the tomato aisle. We spend our days obsessing over the perfect size, colour and ripeness of the fruit… without realising that they are just one component of the recipe we are trying to make.
On aisle two are your relationships. It might not fit the narrative of diet culture, but I promise that the quality of people around you is just as important as the quality of food that goes inside of you.
In the third aisle is exercise. Tread here very carefully. Regular movement is important, but it’s all too easy to get sucked into intense training programmes that take away more than they give you.
Over-exercising is a little like over-doing the salt; it makes it very hard to rebalance the recipe from that point.
Next up we have one of the most important sections of the whole store; the mental health section. Once covered in cobwebs, shopkeepers are seemingly just realising that this aisle is paved with significance. Make sure you are stopping here regularly for essential items such as meditation, laughter, music and gratitude.
On aisle five you’ll find sleep, rest and recovery. I see a ton of people speeding through this one, but it always ends in an inevitable crash of trollies at the bottom.
Then of course there’s the nature aisle. Walk this one slowly, ideally barefoot, and feel the sun on your skin. Swim in the ocean. Lie down in the long grass. Listen to the sound of the birdsong carried on the wind.
Continue browsing the supermarket and you’ll find many other staple ingredients including hydration, the right supplements, a strong community and a sense of purpose. The key is to take something from each section until your recipe is complete.
None of these ingredients on their own will make a meal. But put them all together and you might just have a culinary masterpiece.
Another lesson I have taken from arrabbiata is the time it takes to perfect it. In Italy it isn’t uncommon to leave a batch simmering all day until such point that your tastebuds are rejoicing with every forkful.
Once again, the same logic applies to our health. Don’t expect to change one ingredient and land on the magic formula overnight.
Give it time. If you’re new in the kitchen it might take years until you develop your own signature recipe.
Get creative. Experiment. Take inspiration from others, but never be afraid to adjust the seasoning to your own individual needs.
Remember that the perfect recipe for one person looks very different to another. If it didn’t, we’d all spend every night in the same restaurant.
Your arrabbiata might come with less garlic and more chilli than mine. And that’s ok.
Most importantly of all, be kind to yourself. Even the best chefs fuck up from time to time. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t take them too seriously either.
The journey to good health and an exceptional arrabbiata requires patience, consistency, and above all else an excellent sense of humour when things get fiery.
Oh, and as any good chef will tell you, there’s a key ingredient that can’t be left out.
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Until next time,