This dish mashes together mapo tofu and classic ragu, and what you get is a spicy and savoury sauce worthy of any weeknight supper table. If you’re not a fan of tofu, you can omit it. But the combination of ground pork and tofu, in this rich spice-infused sauce, will convert even the most-staunch tofu adversary. Toasted Sichuān peppercorns give this sauce the tingly sensation that mapo tofu is famous for, so make sure you have the real deal. If you don’t have them in your pantry already, you can find chili paste and Sichuān peppercorns at the Yukon Asian Market on Wood Street.
If you have any leftover sauce, try serving it over crunchy toast, with melted cheddar cheese on top. Maybe a soft egg, too.
- 1 Tbsp Sichuān (Szechuan) peppercorns, finely ground
- 2 Tbsp canola oil
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
- 2 Tbsp grated ginger
- 3/4 kg ground pork
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 Tbsp chili paste
- 2 dried chili peppers, crumbled (or 2 tsp red-pepper flakes)
- 12 oz water
- 1/2 block firm tofu, cut into small cubes
- Salt, to taste
- 1 lb spaghetti
- Chopped cilantro, to garnish
- Chopped scallions (green onions), to garnish
- Sesame flakes, to garnish
- In a cast iron skillet, over medium-high heat, toast the peppercorns until fragrant, then place in a mortar and pestle (or a spice grinder) and finely grind.
- Place the skillet back over medium-high heat and add the oil. When shimmering, add onion, garlic and ginger, then cook until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the ground pork and the Sichuān peppercorns and break up the pork into small pieces with a spatula. Cook until the pork is browned.
- When the pork is browned, add the tomato paste, chili paste, dried pepper, water and tofu, and bring to a simmer. Simmer until a vibrant red oil comes to the surface of the sauce, about 20 minutes. Add more water, if necessary, to keep the liquid above the pork. Season, to taste, with salt.
- While the sauce is simmering, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.
- When the pasta is cooked, reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water, then drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Bring the pasta and sauce to a simmer, using pasta water to loosen if necessary. Garnish with cilantro, scallions and sesame flakes.