Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Not so basic" pasta sauce, or for you Italians that want to argue about it- GRAVY

Having grown up in NJ, I was forced at an early age to be influenced by Italian food. One of the basics of the (southern) Italian cuisine is tomato sauce. Most people slather their spaghetti with it and are pleased with what they can buy from a jar. I think I can count on one hand the amount of jarred pasta sauce I have ever purchased and only then because of time constraints or absolute necessity. Mind you, there are some decent brands out there that make a fair sauce, but once you make this for yourself, you will never be satisfied by jarred sauce ever again. Not only will you save money, but the quality will be light years ahead of the store bought stuff.

This recipe has been in development by me for the past 18 years and continues to be tweeked here and there. It was based on a sauce I made in a restaurant in south Florida, working for a chef that was a Lebonese Jew, who wasn’t very kosher. I have not met anyone that has not at least really liked this sauce and asked for me to write down how to make it. Once you put it all together, it is very easy and the aroma will fill the house by day's end. All it needs is a big bowl of pasta, some parmesian cheese and a big loaf of crusty Italian bread.

I cook my sauce in a crock pot over the length of an entire day (usually about 8 hours). I prefer the crock pot because I do not have to attend it as closely as a pot on the stove which requires stirring more often to prevent burning. I have an 8 quart crock pot, so I make a very large batch at one time, using as much as we need that night and freezing in batches the remaining for use on other nights. With this large crock, I use a #10 can (the very large commercial size cans) of CRUSHED tomatoes. You can start with whatever kind YOU may prefer, but I find that the crushed gives me the best consistency when it is done cooking. Tomato PUREE will yield a very thick sauce and whole tomatoes will be too thin. When I use canned tomatoes, I have a couple brands I prefer. Cost being one of the best determining factors, I like the Walmart brand best. They are the least expensive and I find the taste to be superior to much more expensive brands. I also like Tuttarosa.

Place the tomatoes in the pot, scraping the inside of the cans to get all tomato out. Add herbs- oregano, basil, marjoram, bay leaf, thyme. I will give proportions of the herbs to my taste . You will have to adjust according to your taste. I like a heavily herbed, very flavorful sauce, so I season heavily.

2 parts basil

1 part oregano

½ part marjoram

¼ part thyme

3-4 bay leaves

Salt & pepper


Did you hear that ? NO SUGAR!! If you cook it long enough, you will not need the added sugar. That is a shortcut used to keep from cooking the sauce as long as it should be.

Now the fun part and what I consider the part that make this sauce much better than many others. Take a small to medium onion and cut into thin slices. Then take a head of garlic, peel and cut off the root end to make a clean bulb. I will use an entire head of garlic when I make sauce, you can use as much or as little as you like, but in the end the sauce is NOT garlicy. Put a small amount of olive oil into another small, sauce pan. Heat the oil until it is very hot. Carefully add the onion slices to the hot oil. Leave over medium low heat and stir occasionally. You will want the onions to get very brown, but not burnt. Remove the onions and then add the garlic bulbs to the same oil. Repeat process. The garlic will brown faster than the onions did, so keep close watch. When the garlic is done, slowly add the oil, garlic and onions to the tomato pot and stir in (add slowly and carefully, the hot oil WILL splatter a bit). Stir the whole mixture up very well, cover and put on high (for a crock pot) or VERY low on a stovetop after getting it up to a boil.

After the allotted time, 8-10 hours in a crock, 6-8 on stove top, taste and adjust salt if needed. You will notice that you cannot see the onions anymore and the garlic has become a mushy mass. The sugars that you brought out in the oil have transferred to the sauce, giving it some sweetness. The herbs (all but the bay leaves) have also cooked into the sauce to be unrecognizable. The sauce should be thicker than when it started and darker in color. The olive oil should be stirred well into the sauce so that it is not laying on the surface of the sauce.

I will further add to this by adding sausage or meatballs, mushrooms or red wine. I use this as base for Putenesca sauce, arrabiata, or baked ziti. That’s it! You’re done! Enjoy! Mangia, mangia!!

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