It's Lent and I'm still not shopping, so I've gone up to my elbows into another love, cooking.
Spaghetti sauce. Like the lusty moist goodness of North Carolina barbeque, it is one of those foods that lives in a special place of the heart. It is a warm and tender reminder of the comforts of childhood and an excuse for endless fist shaking debates. With good reason too. Done well it can transport us the recesses of our youth, yet it is cheap enough to prepare that serving an army is totally within reason.
Unfortunately like much of our food tradition it has slowly ceded ground to store bought preparations. Instead of cultivating and perfecting our own we wander down the aisles looking for the perfect sauce. If your time is so compressed that it is squeals for mercy when you check the clock, that might be a compromise you must accept. But before you surrender to the check out line, take a look at how easy this tomato-based nirvana is to prepare.
Behold your raw ingredients. Pictured above you will need:
2 Cans of whole tomatoes
4 Cans of crushed or diced tomatoes
3 to 5 Bay leaves
1 large onion
5 cloves of garlic
1/4 C of chopped fresh basil
2 heaping tablespoons of oregano
salt and pepper to taste
a pinch of sugar to cut the acid
2T of oil for cooking
That is your bare bones sauce right there. Cook that up, eat it, love it.....But you can tinker too, and it is still easy!
A selection of some optional ingredients:
2 green bell peppers
1 yellow bell pepper
1 orange bell pepper
5 Fresh Tomatoes
1C of mushrooms
4 - 6 olives sliced
1/4t to 1/2t cayenne pepper
1/2t to 1t crushed red pepper
1 lbs. cooked ground beef
There are plenty more you could add. Experiment and share your journey. For now, let's start cooking.
You are going to need some pots and pans. If you are doing a simple recipe all you really need are two.
In my household there is a radical sect of pepper hating youngsters, so you will note that I use my second pot to cook the offending fruits separately, but in more agreeable household it can serve as your noodle pot.
Start with your onion and garlic. Dice the onion, and chop the garlic fine or smash it in a garlic press. You can also do the bell peppers at this time if that works in your house.
If you are using cast iron, put the skillet on high heat. When it is good and hot add the oil and encourage it to spread over the entire cooking surface before reducing the heat to medium and adding the onions and garlic.
Cook those for about five minutes until the onions are tender and slightly browned. While that is working, prep the canned whole peeled tomatoes by taking out the hard fibrous core. You can also remove the seeds if that's a problem for you. I personally don't bother.
As your onions reach their cook point, add the whole tomatoes. Hold the juice for a few minutes and allow the tomatoes to cook onto the pan. I know this sounds like a horrible burny idea, but what you are trying to do is develop a frond. These cooked on bits will punch up the flavor considerably, but take care not to let them set so long or they will burn and burning is bad. Usually it takes just a few minutes...like 2 or 3 if you were good about keeping most of the juice in the can.
Meanwhile prepare your oregano. When your tomatoes finish up, add the oregano for about 30 seconds, just enough to release the oils.
Then add the juice and the cans of crushed or diced tomatoes and the bay leaves. This is when you want to all your optional seasonings as well, cayenne & red pepper, beef, sausage or rosemary. Pre-cook the beef and the sausage if you want to reduce the grease.
Whew! Was that a lot of work? Because you are pretty much done. Allow that to simmer at a lower temperature for 20 to 40 minutes depending on how thick you want your sauce. The longer you allow it to simmer the thicker it will be. As cooked this will be a chunky sauce. Boil your pasta and, salt, pepper and sugar to taste, toss in the basil at the last minute and you are good to go. If, however, you are the smooth sauce sort you will want to fish out the bay leaves and have a go at the remaining bit with a hand held stick blender. You can also dump the lot into a stand blender or food processor and give it a spin.
Pour over your pasta, sprinkle with chopped basil and some fresh mozzarella and you are D, O, N, E, done.
For my part I moved on to my much maligned pepper preparation.
I also sauteed some fresh tomatoes.
Then I chopped the basil and mixed it in just before serving.
Cut it rolled up this way and you get nice skinny strips. You can also take it crosswise from here for a fine chop if you like.
All put together with fresh mozzarella, parsley and plated. There you have it. Shake a little truffle salt on top if you are feeling decadent.
This is a great meal to share, so... you know... why don't you invite someone over? That's how you build community one meal at a time. My next post will detail why that might be the single best thing you can do for good health and long life. So tell me how it goes. Man am I hungry now.
PS. My camera hates steam. Any photographers out there with tips?
Key - T = Tablespoons, t = teaspoons, C = cups