Friday, June 25, 2010

Wishful Thinking.

There are so many reasons why I love Italian food, and it's not just because my boyfriend is Italian. Even as a young girl, I always had a special connection to the cuisine. I think at one point I even wished my own mother (hey Mom! I love you!) would turn into an Italian one, so I could rush home from school everyday to find her standing at the stove, stirring a big pot of tomato sauce, and yelling at me to chop more garlic. That wish probably came from the fact that my first serious boyfriend- who was also Italian (what can I say, I guess I have a thing for them)- had a mother who was born in Italy, and still had the accent to prove it. Whenever she would call on him to come down for dinner, or ask me if I wanted a piece of her homemade Tiramisu, I would swoon every so slightly at the sound of her voice, my head filled with visions of an unknown country whose food I had fallen in love with.

As it goes, my mother is actually Jewish, not Italian, but she does make a mean tomato sauce. Seriously. It's from her recipe that I've created my own, and although I've never been to Italy, I think it's some of the best tomato sauce I've ever tasted. It's tangy and sweet,  rich and creamy, and hey- even my boyfriend approves.

Basic Tomato Sauce
Yields enough sauce for about 1 pound of pasta, or serves 4

Almost every Italian dish, including this one, starts with a soffritto, which is a combination of finely minced vegetables and aromatic herbs. The most basic of soffritto consists of a mix of onions, carrots, celery, garlic, salt, and extra virgin olive oil. For this recipe, I've tweaked mine a bit, and used butter instead of olive oil, which I think makes all the difference in the flavor of this particular sauce. I've also omitted the celery, but you could add it in and I'm sure it would taste just fine. In Italian, soffritto means "fry slowly"- and I can't tell you enough how important it is to spend some serious time with your soffritto, because the more patience and love you give it, the more flavorful your tomato sauce will be.

A few other things to think about:

I recommend lightly blending your sauce together at the end in batches with a blender. Once blended, the carrot creates the most beautiful creamy looking sauce, so much so that someone might think it has actual cream in it- and don't worry, I won't tell if you won't.

Also, this recipe can be made with either fresh tomatoes or canned, depending on what you can find. In the Summer, I usually use fresh tomatoes, since they are at their peak of flavor, and in the Winter when tomatoes are more bland and mealy, I use them canned. This summer, however, there has been absolutely no sign of a decent tomato- so I made my sauce with the canned tomatoes- and honestly, I can't tell the difference! I think the most important part of this recipe is the soffritto, anyhow- but you decide.

  • 1 28 oz. can of good quality whole tomatoes, including their juice
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small carrot, chopped
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • salt, to taste
  • pinch of red pepper flakes, optional
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, julienned 
  1. Heat butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Once butter has melted, add onion and carrot and stir to coat. Sprinkle with salt. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened and cooked through.
  2. Remove cover and add minced garlic. Increase heat to medium, and cook garlic for one minute. Add the tomatoes and their juice, shredding them with your fingers to break the whole tomatoes up.
  3. Add the tomato paste and red pepper flakes (if using), and season with a little more salt, to taste. Bring sauce to a low simmer, adjusting heat accordingly, and cook, uncovered until sauce has thickened about 20 minutes. 
  4. If you can, it is recommended that you blend the sauce in batches through the blender. Be careful! This step can be tricky and hot- don't let your blender explode and spray tomato sauce all over the kitchen walls (trust me, I've done it, and it's not fun).
  5. Add julienned basil leaves into sauce and mix well.
  6. Toss sauce with pasta noodles, and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

1 comment:

  1. i know... i always wanted to be italian..... and i do make a great red sauce...Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh..the italians , the shoes ,the food , the men, the language and of course the sopranos just kidding...although did you know your grandfathers brothers who were many, were the jewish mofia...russian jewish immagriants..who came to this country in the early 1900 hundreds ....................