Yahnista Macaronia (Poor Man’s Spaghetti)


Our parents’ generation grew up during very difficult times in Greece. World War II followed by the Greek Civil War resulted in widespread poverty and unrest. They don’ talk about it very much, but the few stories they do share are pretty harrowing. While our own working-class, immigrant upbringing was modest by American standards, compared to what our parents endured we grew up in the lap of luxury: plenty of food on the table, clean clothes on our backs, and a roof over our heads in a safe environment. Like a lot of American kids we were picky eaters, which was frustrating for parents who knew what it was to be truly hungry. Our Yiayia used to shake her head in disbelief when we rejected the food placed in front of us. One meal that we would always eat was Yahnista Macaronia. For our parents, this food is a symbol of poverty — they ate this in Greece because they had nothing else — so it is more than a little ironic that this is one of our all-time favorite meals. It is one of those simple comfort foods that fills your belly and makes you happy. The spaghetti is cooked in sort of a tomato-onion broth. When the starch from the pasta is released into the broth it transforms into a delicious sauce that coats every bite. Here is how you make it: 

DSC_0034All you will need is spaghetti, one onion, olive oil, water, salt,  pepper, and some form of tomato. We like to use canned pureed tomato because of the smooth, thick consistency. If it is tomato season you can add pureed fresh tomato and it will amp up the flavor.

DSC_0044 DSC_0045Dice the onion and sauté in olive oil until translucent. Add the tomato puree and cook for about 15 minutes.

DSC_0053DSC_0063 Add 5 cups of water and bring to a boil.

DSC_0054 DSC_0065Add 1 tablespoon salt and spaghetti.

DSC_0069 DSC_0072

It will look like there is not enough water in your pot, but that is the secret to this dish. If you add too much water you’ll wind up with a watery, flavorless sauce. In order to prevent the pasta from sticking, you need to stir frequently. Keep a small pot of water simmering on the stove in case you need to add a bit, but do so with caution. Less water=more flavor. Cook for about 1 or 2 minutes less than what is stated on the package directions. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit, covered, for about 3 minutes to let the sauce thicken. Add pepper to taste.DSC_0076Serve immediately. Yum.

Yahnista Macaronia (Poor Man’s Spaghetti)

Serves 4

Source: Athena Merianos 

2 T olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

1-2 cups tomato puree (you can also use crushed tomatoes, tomato paste or fresh tomatoes. Adjust the amount of tomato to suit your taste)

5 cups water

1 lb pasta

1 T salt

pepper to taste

In a medium sized pot, heat oil over medium heat and add chopped onion. Saute until translucent. Add tomato and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add 5 cups water and bring to a boil. Add salt, pepper and pasta. Adjust heat so the water doesn’t boil too rapidly and stir frequently to keep pasta from sticking (keep small saucepan of water simmering nearby in case you need to add more to the pot to prevent sticking). Cook 1-2 minutes less than package directions. Most of the water should be absorbed leaving a thin tomato sauce. Remove from heat and let sit for 3 minutes. Stir to distribute the sauce, adjust seasoning and serve immediately.

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