Spaghetti Napolitan (スパゲッティナポリタン)
If you’re Italian, you may want to look the other way because you might find this recipe offensive. That being said, Spaghetti Napolitan isn’t an Italian dish as the name would imply, but rather a Japanese creation from a bygone era. In the same way that California rolls and Caterpillar Rolls were created in the West to adapt sushi to Western palates, Spaghetti Napolitan was created in Japan to suit the Japanese palate during a time when Western food first started to appear. It may not be authentically Italian, but it’s been an authentic part of Japanese yōshoku for the past 90 years.
In fact, it’s become such a part of Japanese food lore, Spaghetti Napolitan has been featured in episodes of Midnight Diner and Food Wars. That’s probably why I’ve gotten so many requests for my Napolitan recipe.
Every version of this dish I’ve had before has had too much sugar added, making them too sweet for my tastes. I’ve eliminated the added sugar for my version, as the ketchup has plenty of sweetness on its own. What you get is a tasty agrodolce sauce that’s a perfect counterbalance for the salty cured meat.
To be honest, I’d still prefer a proper Bolognese(takes 3 hours), or even my quick spaghetti (takes 30 minutes), but the appeal for kids —and the nostalgic appeal for grownups— is understandable. As a ridiculously quick fix that can be thrown together when your fridge is almost empty, in about the time it takes to boil a pot of pasta, this Japanese Spaghetti is pretty hard to beat.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- The balance of the salty bacon (or sausage) and the sweet and tangy ketchup make for a tasty juxtaposition.
- Regardless of how you may feel about using ketchup as a sauce, it’s widely available and comes pre-seasoned, which makes it work for this easy fix.
- By transferring the spaghetti directly from the boiling liquid into the sauce, you can add some of the water along with the pasta. This helps thin the sauce out enough, so the sauce’s flavor has a chance to soak into the noodles.
Ingredients for Spaghetti Napolitan
- Pasta – as the name would imply, the traditional pasta to use for Spaghetti Napolitan is spaghetti. I like using a thicker one (1.9mm), which takes a little longer to boil, but it gives the dish more substance and holds up better to the big chunks of cured meat and peppers.
- Cured meat – the most common cured meat used for Japanese spaghetti are little cocktail sausages sliced up, but I also like using thick cut bacon. Pancetta, guanciale, and speck are also delicious in this, and I think almost any cured meat will work.
- Veggies & mushrooms – sliced onions and mild green peppers (called Pīman in Japan) are the only veggies that always show up in this dish. Mushrooms are another common addition. Personally, I think it’s okay to throw in pretty much whatever vegetables you like that you have on hand.
- Ketchup – although it’s rumored that initial versions of this dish were made with tomato sauce, the use of ketchup as the main component of the sauce is what has turned Spaghetti Napolitan its own unique dish, so I think this is a must. Alternatively, you could make the sauce with tomato puree, tomato paste, sugar, vinegar, spices, and salt. At that point, you’re basically making ketchup, and it kind of defeats the whole point of the dish.
- Butter – I like adding a pat of butter at the end because it rounds out the sharp acidity of the vinegar in the ketchup. It also adds some of its own umami, especially if you use cultured butter as I did.
- Soy sauce – the ketchup on its own doesn’t have quite enough salt to season both the pasta and the veggies, so I like to add a splash of soy sauce. This not only seasons the spaghetti, but it also gives the sauce a boost of umami.
- Spices – I used some freshly cracked black pepper to add a mildly spicy zing to the sauce, but there are many options here, and you can add dried herbs like basil and oregano; or spicier things like chili peppers or hot sauce.
How to Make Spaghetti Napolitan
Bring a pot of water to a boil and add a tablespoon of salt for every 5 cups of water. You want to boil the spaghetti for 1-2 minutes less than what the package directions say so we can finish it off in the sauce.
Preheat a frying pan over medium heat, and when the pasta has about 6 minutes remaining, add the olive oil, onions, and mushrooms. Saute these until they are just starting to brown around the edges.
Add the bacon (or whatever cured meat you chose) to the pan and saute the mixture until it’s mostly cooked through. We’re still going to cook this together with the sauce, so you don’t want to overcook it at this point, which can make it tough.
Add the green peppers and give it a few tosses to integrate it. I like my peppers to still be a little crisp and vibrant green, so I don’t cook them for very long, but if you prefer them to be tender, you can add these in with the onions and mushrooms at the beginning.
When the pasta has about a minute left to go, add the ketchup, along with a ladleful of pasta water, and season this with the soy sauce, butter, and black pepper. Give this a vigorous stir to ensure the butter emulsifies with the sauce.
When the timer for the pasta goes off, add it straight into the pan with the sauce. It’s okay if some more pasta liquid goes into the sauce as you want to finish cooking the spaghetti in the sauce.
Twirl and toss the spaghetti in the sauce until it’s cooked to your liking. If the noodles start sticking together before they’re done, add more pasta water to thin out the sauce and repeat until they’re cooked to your liking.
Serve your Spaghetti Napolitan with a side of parmesan cheese.
Other Japanese Pasta Recipes
Though the name may imply its from Naples, Spaghetti Napolitan was a dish created in Japan and is most commonly attributed to chef Shigetada Irie of the Hotel New Grand in Yokohama who is said to have been inspired by watching American troops mix ketchup into their spaghetti after the second World War.
There’s a bit of confusion on the pronunciation of Napolitan because the name is sometimes transliterated back to the Roman alphabet as “Naporitan.” The issue is that the Japanese language does not have distinct “l” and “r” sounds. Instead, the closest equivalent is somewhere in between the two. This is why the Japanese have trouble differentiating “grass” and “glass,” while English speakers have trouble pronouncing “ramen.”
su like soup
pa like pond
ge like get
ti like team
na like knob
po like pole
ri the “ri” sound does not exist in the English language and is like if you tried to pronounce “ream” with the tip of your tongue at the front of your mouth.
tan like tarp plus on
Yes. You’d need to change the name, but this method works with any style of pasta.
thick-cut bacon 5 strips, chopped into 1/2-inch strips
button mushrooms 5 mushrooms, sliced
mild green pepper like Anaheim chilies, sliced into rings
onion 1/2 small onion, sliced
Boil the spaghetti in a pot of well-salted water (1 tablespoon per 5 cups of water) for 1-2 minutes less than what the package says.
About 6 minutes before the pasta is ready, add the olive oil onions and mushrooms to a preheated frying pan over medium heat. Saute until the vegetables just start to brown.
Add the bacon and continue sauteing until bacon just starts to render out some fat.
Add the green peppers, and when the pasta has about a minute left to go, add the ketchup, along with a ladle of boiling liquid from the pasta.
Add the soy sauce, butter, and black pepper and stir this together to emulsify the butter.
When the spaghetti is done, add it to the sauce and finish cooking it in the sauce. If the noodles start sticking together, add more of the pasta’s boiling liquid to loosen the sauce.
When the pasta is cooked to your liking, serve the Spaghetti Napolitan with some grated parmesan cheese.