Tag Archives: pasta

Title_Image_TomatoSauce

I recently found myself in between jobs and with 12 whole days off of work. I hadn’t had that much time off since I was unemployed almost 4 years ago, and I was determined to do it right. Daily workouts, long walks, sun-tanning on the roof, busting out my juicer again – you get the idea. That kept me going until about the third day, before the darker forces set in – sleeping late, starting Breaking Bad, not putting on pants, watching more Breaking Bad. Finding myself with suddenly only a few precious days left of funemployment for who knows how long, I finally remembered that I really should have been cooking all week. I tried to think of the countless recipes I’ve looked at and thought “oh, that’s the kind of thing you do when your only job is to cook and blog about it.” Hmm…

That got me going. I headed down to the farmer’s market and, finding an impressive end-of-summer bounty, bought 3 pounds of early girl tomatoes . At $1 per pound, these guys are for nothing but a fresh pasta sauce, and this is exactly the time to do it. The tomatoes are extra delicious and on sale, and it’s about to be time for stick-to-your-ribs food.  So tomato sauce it was.  Well, two days later, because a) there was a lot more Breaking Bad to watch and it felt like a lot of work, and b) I tend to get really domestic when I’m nervous about something coming up. Whether it’s the need to creatively use up everything in the fridge before a big trip, or cleaning my room at the very moment things feel the most disorganized. That’s how I found myself spending all night making fresh pasta sauce on the eve of starting a new job where I knew I’d be fed three meals a day. But in addition to being some kind of cathartic exercise, this was a really delicious and fun challenge.

This sauce is truly from scratch – no place to cut corners here. You have to blanch the tomatoes, peel them, then cut and seed them. You have to cook down some finely diced onions, carrots, and celery, and then simmer it all for a good hour. Then you have to  run the whole thing through the immersion blender. But by going on this journey, you reach what Smitten Kitchen calls “tomato sauce nirvana.” The good thing about this recipe is that it’s effort-intensive in a blunt kind of way. It’s pretty hard to mess up. It’s also really basic, meant to be a base for any number of future recipes, from simple pasta to something baked and cheesy to eggs. Making extra and freezing it obviously a must.

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Fresh Tomato Sauce
Courtesy of Smitten Kitchen

3 pounds of early girl tomatoes (if you can find San Marzanos, I’m sure that will be amazing too)
A glug of red wine (yes, that’s the technical term)
1/4 cup olive oil
Small onion
2 to 3 small cloves of garlic
1/2 medium carrot
1/2 stalk of celery
1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
A cup of chopped fresh basil

The tomatoes: Bring a pot of water to boil. Cut a small X at the bottom of each tomato. Blanche the tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 to 30 seconds, then either rinse under cold water or shock in an ice water bath. Now peel the tomatoes. Net,  halve your tomatoes, or quarter them if they’re on the bigger side. Squeeze the seeds out over a strainer over a bowl and reserve the juices. Coarsely chop the tomatoes.

The vegetables: Finally chop the carrots, onion, celery, and garlic.

The sauce: Heat your olive oil in a large pot over meduim. Cook your onions, carrots, celery and garlic, if you’re using them, for at least 10 minutes (I did this while I was finishing up with the tomatoes, and it was more like 20). Add your tomatoes, tomato juice, and wine, and bring to a simmer, lowering the heat to medium-low. Let simmer for at least 45 minutes. If the sauce still looks a little chunky, which mine did, throw the immersion blender in it or gently blend in batches. Add in your fresh basil once the heat is off and season with salt.

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Bachelor Pasta

pasta pic

I’m not one to throw some red sauce on a pasta and call it an achievement. I usually see people doing that to a pasta and writing about, taking a picture of it, or charging $16 for it, and think “really, that’s it?” Maybe I’m not a pasta purist – although I had no problem living off of spaghetti pomodoro for a month in Italy. But outside of the Old World, where all tomato sauce usually starts in a jar, it leaves something to be desired.

Let me tell you right now, that’s not what this is. To start, it comes from whole canned San Marzano tomatoes, so  friends and neighbors, put your Bay Area tomato snobbery minds at ease. Second, this is Spaghetti All’Amatriciana, which means it’s really about slow cooked onions and pancetta. I had this in Rome and it’s never left my consciousness since. Lots of salty deep flavor from the pork, not to mention a hefty, hefty dose of red pepper, makes this surprising in addition to being no-brainer delicious.

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I got this recipe out of some sort of Bachelors cookbook made by Esquire, which is easy enough as it is…then cut the time by about half. I found it long enough to develop those deep flavors, but I’m sure going the whole way with it is even more awesome. I also used regular bacon out of necessity (really Whole Foods? If you can’t find a market for pancetta in San Francisco, where can you?). I thought it would be a bigger deal than it was, but nice thick-cut smoky bacon does work quite well. The recipe actually calls for guanciale, but unless you’re a bachelor trying to impress someone you probably don’t have to worry about pulling out all the stops.

Spaghetti All’Amatriciana – Bachelor’s Style

6 0z pancetta or good bacon
1 large onion
2 1/2 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
two 28 oz cans of San Marzano tomato puree (or buy whole tamatoes and chop or puree)
1 lb spaghetti

Heat a skim of oil (about 2 tbsp) in a large pot over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until the fat begins to render and meat is no longer pink, about three minutes.

Add onion and stir, coating onions with the rendered fat. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and golden, about ten minutes.

Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is aromatic, about ten minutes more.

Add the tomato puree, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and gently simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, until it reduces and thickens slightly, the flavors blend, and the fat floats to the surface, about 40 minutes (or as long as you can stand it before it just looks too good and you’re just too hungry).

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti until al dente. Drain but don’t rinse, return spaghetti to hot pot, and toss with the sauce.

Love

I’m not a hugger. I’m not good at giving compliments or telling friends I love you. I’m not always good at talking about important things and I sometimes forget birthdays. But I do know how to feed.

A couple weeks ago I had two of my best buds from middle school visit (you’ll know for me those aren’t even the longest friendships I have, but let’s not split hairs.) For three days my quiet, tiny San Francisco apartment was filled with giggles, shrieks, squeals, and everything else that makes you miss your old girlfriends. And I became a sixth grader. I bickered with them, shared a tiny little bed with them and didn’t sleep, woke up cranky and pouty and overly defensive of my questionable outfit choice. But  one thing was different – I cooked for them. Baked pasta. With cheese. And eggplant. And sausage. I call it Love in a Pan.

I’ve been making this dish for loved ones for a long time. It’s taken from Tyler’s Ultimate – that show where Tyler Florence picks a dish and figures out how to make the most ultimate version of it. This was from his baked pasta episode, and it really lives up to the name. It’s very serious and not for the faint-hearted, with lots of everything, especially cheese. It does takes some time sauteeing the eggplant, browning the sausage, making the pasta, and then baking it all until beautiful, golden, and bubbly. It’s done best when you’re hanging out with some people you can pass days or years with, especially over a bottle of red wine. You can save time a few places – half the time (okay, more than half) I throw in pre-made marinara sauce instead of starting with the canned San Marzanos. I also usually end up buying pre-cooked chicken sausage instead of the raw pork, so all you have to do is brown it. This stuff lasts for days and I never get sick of it. We ate it all weekend – for dinner, and then when ravenously hungry around 2am later that night.  Probably while laughing a lot.

Baked Rigatoni with Eggplant and Sausage
Adapted from Tyler Florence

  • Kosher Salt
  • Olive oil
  • 6 links italian sausage (pork or chicken), chopped
  • 1 large eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped (if making sauce)
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped (if making sauce)
  • 1 large can (28 ounces) peeled whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano (or a bottle of San Marzano tomato sauce)
  • A bunch of basil
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup freshly grated good Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta to while you start prepping everything else. Get out a big baking pan. Don’t overcook the pasta!

Heat a 2 count of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and toss in the hot oil for 3 to 4 minutes, until nicely browned. Set aside in a large bowl.

Turn the heat down to medium. Add a generous 1/3 cup of oil to the skillet and get it hot. Add as many eggplant pieces as you can comfortably fit in a single layer and sprinkle well with salt. Cook, turning, for 7 to 8 minutes, until the eggplant browned on the outside and soft on the inside. Repeat as needed for the rest of the eggplant, and add to bowl.

If making sauce: Add another 2 count of oil to the skillet, then your onion and garlic, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until translucent. Dump the whole can of tomatoes and their juices into a bowl and crush the tomatoes with your hands to break them up; add that to the pan with the basil and cook it down until pulpy and relatively thick, about 15 minutes. If using pre-made sauce, skip this step!

Add the tomato sauce, rigatoni, half the mozzarella, and salt and pepper to the bowl and mix. Pour this into your baking sheet, cover with the other half of the mozzarella and dust with Parmesan cheese. Drizzle with a touch more olive oil and baked for half an hour or until deeply golden brown. Share with good people.