My cooking has been described as
makes a turd
But perhaps the definitive description of my cooking style is
I insist on doing things the hard way. Well, not difficult, really, so much as TIME-CONSUMING. But just between you and me? I really love making stuff from scratch, from whole foods.* Even if I could get the results in a jar in one-tenth the time, I wouldn't want to.
So today I am making pasta sauce. It's really easy and there is no real recipe, which is a bonus. But I'll still tell you about it, because you're gonna need an excuse to listen to "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" or "Le Show" on NPR next weekend, and here's your excuse: you've got FOOD to make!
Foolery's Extra-Chunky Marinara Sauce, Sort Of
Tools you'll need:
- a good stock pot -- this is my favorite:
(Photo stolen from these guys)
But you can use a tall stock pot if you want to -- just make sure you've got another one lying around to cook your pasta in later.
- a good chef's knife, because you'll be chopping chopping chopping
- a cutting board (see above reason)
- an outboard motor
- a long-handled mixing spoon
- a short-handled tasting spoon
- a beverage of choice, for inspiration
Ingredients, most of which are entirely negotiable:
- meat (2 diced chicken breasts, or a pound of hamburger, or a pound of ground Italian sausage, or any combination thereof). If you're a vegetarian, I'm so, so sorry.
- olive oil
- 2-4 15-oz. cans of tomato product (I like 2 sauce and 2 diced or stewed, but you can also add a small can of tomato paste for thickness and concentrated flavor)
- one yellow onion, diced (red is too sweet and white is too hot)
- garlic, minced very fine (to taste -- I use five big cloves, but we're afraid of vampires)
- two stalks of celery, diced
- 1-3 zucchini, diced
- a buttload of mushrooms, sliced
- one bell pepper (green for color), diced
- a can of drained, rinsed black olives if you're feeling frisky, size small or sliced
- sugar (yes, sugar)
- red wine
- dried herbs, salt and black pepper to taste
Cooking the Sauce
Drizzle a little olive oil in your pot -- maybe two or three times around the bottom? Coupla tablespoons, maybe, but I have no idea. Brown your meat of choice. If you have chosen ground beef and/or sausage, you'll want to drain the liquid off and give it to your skinny pets, (if you have any skinny pets) because this is PURE FLAVOR JUICE, which means, of course, FAT. Restrain yourself.
To the browned meat add all vegetables but no herbs, spices, sugar or wine (yet). Get that sucker bubbling, then turn your heat down, maybe to about 2 on a scale of 10, so the sauce continues to bubble and simmer just a little.
Add a bay leaf if you have one. I don't know why. I think it may be a trick.
Pour in some wine. Some? Maybe a cup? Add a smattering of sugar. Could be about a half teaspoon. Less is more, but you need a bit of sugar to cut the acid from the tomatoes and the sour from the herbs, I think. If someone has a better answer about why we put sugar in, lemme have it.
Let this simmer for anywhere from half an hour to three hours. I'm serious. I've done both, and while cooking it longer results in bigger flavor, I still sort of like the freshness of a short-cooked sauce. It's always better the second day, anyway. Use your judgment.
What I really like to do is cook it in the middle of the day, then turn it off at this point and let it stand for a couple of hours before I heat it up again and season it. I'm sure my brother the chef would be HORRIFIED at that, and all of you health department types, please disregard what I just typed. It's probably not ideal for food safety, but it's GREAT for letting the flavors commingle a bit. Then I put in the herbs.
Seasoning the Sauce
I use thyme, basil, rosemary, oregano, parsley, and alfalfa. Just kidding about the alfalfa -- seeing who's still awake. I stink at measurements, but again, less is more. Too much and your sauce tastes like lawn clippings. If you must measure, start with 1/4 teaspoon, or even less. This is where the all-important tasting spoon comes into play. Stir that pot up and take a taste -- need more? Try a little more oregano and basil. Parsley is really just to keep the dried parsley people in business, God bless 'em. About right? maybe a bit bland? Before you reach for more herbs, give it a shake of salt and pepper -- one tiny shake of cayenne if you're adventurous -- and taste it again. Oh, and remember to wash your tasting spoon between tastings. Or not; you're probably alone in your kitchen and those skinny pets won't tell.
Once you're pretty sure you have the herbs right, add salt and pepper. Go easy on the salt but don't skimp on the pepper.
This sauce is not particularly tomato-y because it's so chunky. That suits my family as we're not big on red sauce. You may want to use more tomato sauce and some tomato paste if you like really tomato-y sauce. Also? Don't forget to fish out the bay leaf!
This makes a huge amount, as you might imagine. I ladle it over my pasta, mix it up, and then bag the rest in a gallon-sized freezer Zip-Loc. Works great for lasagna later on.
Serve with a salad or something, but there are enough vegetables in this to choke a bunny, so it could almost be a one-pot meal. As for beverages, I suggest this
but avoid this
unless you, too, want to be horizontal and blurry.
Until next time, 'bye for now from the M.A.T. Bistro!**
*Okay, this includes canned tomatoes and dried spices from jars, and I don't kill any livestock, press my own wine or dig my own salt. But other than that . . .
**So named by my friend Gubby, who is used to my cooking, and insists that "Bistro" adds the class that "Cafe" just doesn't have.