Once in awhile all I want is a shallow bowl of really plain spaghetti with red sauce – like the kind you get in the can, only not as mushy and with more flavour – the sort of thing I imagine would have been served in an Italian neighbourhood eatery in Manhattan in the 1950s. Something I could mop up with crusty, buttery bread and wash down with red wine. Something uninterrupted even by meatballs.
(Which isn’t to say a batch of good meatballs wouldn’t do really well here.)
Having been MIA for the past three dinnertimes, and about to leave town for 10 days (yes, the boys will join me for some of it) I simmered a pot of red sauce to somehow maintain my presence when Mike inevitably makes spaghetti for himself and W for the next few dinners or so. I know, they could easily open a jar and be perfectly fine, but simmering a pot of sauce somehow alleviates some of that going-away guilt. And it warms the kitchen when it’s snowy outside.
Don’t worry – I’m not going to make you peel tomatoes and simmer them down. This sauce starts with good canned tomatoes. It’s one of those high reward for minimum effort recipes: for approximately three minutes’ investment, you can have your own pot of red sauce simmering, feeling all like an Italian Nonna who peels her own tomatoes every Sunday afternoon to make sauce to feed her family of twenty or so. The only thing we really have in common are the wiry chin hairs.
I’ve never been able to plate pasta in that swirly beehive Donna Hay-way – mine always just plops unceremoniously into the bowl, no matter what I do with the fork. I kinda like it like that.
My friend Gwendolyn reminded me of this formula last week, when she made a batch on Saturday morning TV – I first made it after seeing it on her blog. Adapted from Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking via several food blogs. San Marzano or San Marzano-style canned tomatoes are packed in tomato puree instead of water and shouldn’t be too tough to find; if you can’t, swap any good jar of tomatoes, plain or fire-roasted. The butter may sound decadent-trust me, it makes all the difference here, elevating the sauce to a silky new level without making it greasy.
All that goes into the pot are tomatoes, a halved onion, and butter. After it does its thing you fish the onion out, although this time I whizzed it right into the pot. I made a double batch, and since I didn’t have any San Marzano tomatoes, I used a can of plum tomatoes and another of tomato puree, and it worked out just fine. You can break the tomatoes up with a spoon as they simmer, or stick a hand-held immersion blender straight in the pot. If you do this, don’t wear your brand-new white down vest from Old Navy.
I’ve made this before, but when I doubled it (here), I didn’t double the butter or the onion, and it was delicious. You don’t need salt. You don’t need pepper. You don’t need fresh basil or a pinch of sugar to balance things out. But you may need some freezer space so you can stash some of this loveliness away for another comfort food craving.
Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce
1-2 cans 28 oz (796 mL) can good-quality whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1/3 cup butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
salt, to taste
Put the tomatoes, butter and onion in a pot over medium heat. Once it starts to bubble, turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for about 45 minutes. Put a lid on if you don’t want any red spatters in the vicinity of the pot. Stir occasionally, squishing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with your spoon.
Fish out the onion halves (or leave it in and puree the lot) and if you like, blend until smooth with a hand-held immersion blender. Serve hot, ladled over spaghetti. Serves 6-12.
October 29 2012 | pasta and vegetarian | 18 Comments »
How could you not stuff a pumpkin with everything good? Especially when it’s a week before Halloween and you already have foot-long icicles hanging from your roof.
I met Dorie Greenspan last year in Austin. I recognized her son first, sitting on the arm of her chair in the hotel lounge. They had been (and still are) opening a series of pop-up cookie shops called Beurre & Sel, and I had more than a little cookie crush. Whomever I was with – someone blocked out of my memory by the brightness of that Dorie sun – introduced me, and we had a short chat, and I smiled all the way back to my room.
The next evening I was at a party – with about 500 other people – when I spotted Dorie chatting with Jacques Pépin a few yards away. She turned and caught my eye, and the two of them came through the crowd, directly toward me. I assumed she was coming to say hi to someone standing in my vicinity but no – she had come over to say hi, and ask me how my day was. And then I met Jacques, who plopped an ice cube into his glass of white wine. And I may have pinched myself, or jabbed myself in the leg with a fork, and possibly skipped back to my hotel, I can’t remember.
I came home and immediately bought Around My French Table and it sat by my bed, to be occasionally flipped through but mostly to act as a sort of second end table-slash-laundry stool. And I watched as people cooked from it and posted about it, and I kept meaning to follow suit but didn’t. And the one recipe that was at the same time the most appealing and unappealing was the whole roasted pumpkin filled with everything good. Because how lovely is a soft, roasted pumpkin that has caved in on itself and its bread-cheese-bacon filling? Except that I have never been a huge fan of pumpkin. Then again, I’ve always associated it with pie – if I think of it as a winter squash, I love it. (That’s right, I don’t like pumpkin pie. I think I may be the only one.)
So this week as the boys sat at the kitchen table and hollowed out pumpkins – small sugar pumpkins, those smaller, smoother Jack-o-Lantern-looking ones – I decided to save one from getting a face, and instead stuffed it with everything good, and baked it. The idea is that the squash gets soft as it roasts, and you scoop it out along with the cheesy, bready innards, almost like a gooey gratin.
And it was easy – and it was good. Next time, I think I’ll bake a curry in the pumpkin – really, you could bake or braise anything that goes with squash inside one.
Roasted Pumpkin Filled with Everything Good
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table
1 sugar pumpkin, about 2-3 pounds
canola or olive oil
salt and pepper
3-4 slices (about 1/4 pound) stale bread, torn into chunks
1 cup (about 1/4 pound) grated or chunked cheese, such as Gruyère, Emmenthal, aged cheddar, or a combination
2–4 garlic cloves, crushed or chopped
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 tsp. fresh thyme (optional)
1/3 cup (ish) half & half or whipping cream
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 350F. Slice the top off the sugar pumpkin, like you would if you were carving a Jack-o-lantern, and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle the inside with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put it on a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet and put it into the oven while you prepare the stuffing.
In a bowl, toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, thyme, half & half, some salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Remove the pumpkin from the oven (if you put it in) and stuff the bread mixture into it, letting it overflow a bit, drizzling any cream in the bottom of the bowl over top. Put the lid on and put the pumpkin back into the oven for about an hour.
Remove the lid and bake for another half hour, until the pumpkin is soft and slumped over, and the top is golden and crispy. To serve, scoop out the soft pumpkin with the filling.
October 26 2012 | veg and vegetarian | 20 Comments »