meat-tomato-sauced spaghetti/bucatini with mint
(isgouhi's macaroni)

Absentminded bob did this recipe twice.

version one:

The first time bob had spaghetti at the in-laws, they passed around this little teacup plate with green flakes on it. Everybody sprinkles some over their spaghetti with their thumb and adjacent two fingers, so bob follows suit. Welcome to the dried mint version of spaghetti. It turns out that when Isgouhi was a little girl back in Aleppo, Syria, her old uncle would come over for dinner and when they had spaghetti their way, he would ask for dried mint to put on top. This was new to them too, but they tried it and liked it and it became a family tradition. Who knows where the uncle got the idea. But we thank him for it.

As for how an Italian style spaghetti dish got to the post World War II Middle East in the first place is a more challenging question. But Aleppo had a reputation as a culinary hot spot, so probably they knew a good thing when they found it and adopted it straightaway. 

version two:

bob grew up with American spaghetti and meatballs, including experience with the stuff that came in a can. When he first arrived in Italy for his year-long visit as a twenty-something young man, he started in with his customary practice of cutting real spaghetti with a knife and fork to more easily shovel it in, but this was immediately corrected. [Thanks, remo!] This is simply not allowed over there. Returning stateside after a year of intensive indoctrination and a cooling off period in Munich, spaghetti eventually became "pasta" and bob grew up to become a pasta snob.

So when he first came face to face with Isgouhi's version of spaghetti with meat sauce (they call it macaroni in the Middle East) and bright green dried mint to sprinkle over it, he was justifiably skeptical. First it sort of looked like spaghetti from a can and second—cheese isn't green! (Except on the moon, perhaps.) How could they get the cheese mixed up with green glitter? (bob's unspoken reaction.) Well, not having voiced his reservations beforehand, bob didn't have to eat crow over this one when it turned out pretty darn good.

This is another regular meal bob always looks forward to at Chez Isgouhi. Eventually they stopped calling it macaroni at least. It took nearly 3 decades for bob to learn that in the old country, they used bucatini! Yes, bucatini are better, we finally tried it that way in 2020 during the corona virus lockdown when Isgouhi was our house guest for 3 months.


1 lb spaghetti (bucatini are better!)
1 lb ground beef (or lamb)
1 medium onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, pressed
1 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
1 t allspice* (just use allspice)
1 t Middle Eastern red pepper  (3 parts paprika to 1 part cayenne)
1 6oz can tomato paste plus 1 –  1 1/2 can water if only paste is used
    1 heaping T tomato paste plus 14 oz diced tomato or a cup of fresh tomato, diced
1 heaping T red pepper paste
1/2 t oregano
dried mint to sprinkle over each serving


  1. Start the pasta water boiling and when boiling, add the spaghetti/bucatini and usual amount of salt (we just dump in some without really ever knowing what we are doing) and cook until al dente.
  2. Meanwhile brown the ground meat and when nearly done, add the chopped onion and saute until softened.
  3. Stir in the garlic and 1 heaping T tomato paste if using diced tomato and briefly cook, then the diced tomato.
  4. Then add the spices, red pepper paste, and if not using diced tomato, the tomato paste first mixed with the water, and continue cooking until heated through.
  5. Combine the sauce and drained pasta well, coating each spaghetti/bucatini strand. There should not be "extra sauce" not bound to the spaghetti. If there is, something went wrong. This is a really spare coating, as it should be. On the other hand this is also good with too much sauce. Do it your way.
  6. Serve with dried mint sprinkled on each portion instead of the usual parmigiano cheese treatment. You will be amazed that it works!


  1. Until this point allspice as listed in all recipes originating from Isgouhi is really a "Middle Eastern spice mix" that includes allspice, nutmeg, cardamom and a few others. This is transported back from Lebanon to us by hand but can also be found in Middle Eastern food stores and on the web. Or just pretend that it is ordinary allspice.
  2. Isgouhi. An unusual Armenian female name (to bob, not to Armenians). And the name of bob's mother-in-law and direct pipeline into the motherload of Middle Eastern cuisine with a Armenian-Lebanese twist. Her story goes back to 1915,
    Nartouhi was the name of Ani's mom Isgouhi's mom, and her mom (ani's maternal great grandmother) was named Sima. Nartouhi was a newborn baby whose dad was afraid the Turks would hear her crying on the Musa Dagh mountain on the Mediterranean coast where the Armenian villagers living below had escaped to instead of departing on the death march and he wanted to leave Nartouhi behind but Sima insisted on taking her along. They all were rescued by the French navy, a story partially told in the 2016 Hollywood movie The Promise (streamable on Prime Video). Isgouhi grew up in Aleppo, formerly the home of a large Armenian population which contributed to its credibility as a food mecca, that is until the recent tragic war. Thanks Sima for allowing your granddaughter to exist!
  3. Bucatini are also called perciatelli by some US marketed pasta companies.
  4. Illustrations available.
spgtimnt.htm: 28-jun-2020 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]