Holiday cooking, home cooking, Italian Food, vegetarian

Simple, Silky Tomato Sauce

marcella

I have often spoken of my deep love for Julia Child, and my girl crush on Nigella Lawson, however there are some others that I have affection for, for example Madeleine Kamman and Marcella Hazan.  Such exotic names aren’t they?  Chef and teacher Ms. Kamman was someone I was also introduced to via public television, I believe as a teenager.  Many years later I bought her large tome, The New Making of a Cook.  Believe me, if you can lay your hands on it, buy it.  It’s truly a lesson in not only French cooking, but in being a true cook.  It taught me about slurry, great pastry crust, and some of the most wonderful sauces.  I highly recommend it.  Marcella Hazan (photo above), who sadly left us in 2013, I became aware of due to the New York Times.  She has a long history of bringing simple traditional Italian food to the American public.

The recipe I am offering today is one of Marcella Hazan’s.  It’s comforting in these days of turmoil. It’s so simple, it’s almost not a recipe, but wow, the end product is seriously delicious! Yes, there is a great deal of butter and no olive oil or garlic, and some onion you don’t eat with your pasta, but believe me, it will be  a new favorite!

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 28 oz can of best quality whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (see my note below)
  • 1/2 onion, peeled
  • Salt (to taste)

Yup, that’s it!

Place the tomatoes, butter and half onion in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  It’s up to you to salt now or at the end, try a pinch or so.  Just remember even though you do not cook this for a long time, it will concentrate, so be careful with the salting.

I’ll be honest with you, even with canned tomatoes, I usually seed them.  All you have to do is cut them in half, wriggle your fingers in them to release the seeds over a fine mesh strainer and bowl.  Then gently press whats in the strainer with a spoon to release any liquid, and add to the pot.  You’ll need the juice, but not the seeds.  Of course that is personal preference, you don’t have to do it, and seeds won’t change the outcome in any way other than texture.

Bring the pot to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, occasionally stirring, and pressing the tomatoes with a spoon to break them up.  Uncover the pot and cook another 15 minutes, still checking and stirring.  Once 45 minutes has passed, check for seasoning, and add salt as needed.  Remove the onion (eat it, cooks treat, it’s delicious), and you’re ready to dress pasta.  And that’s all folks.  Easy as boiling water, but much more tasty.  This will keep for about a week in the fridge, much longer if you freeze it, but I am fairly certain after the first try, there won’t be much left over!

I will admit, I do sometimes puree this, just to make it smooth, with an immersion blender.  Again, just my preference.  If you do this though, put it back on the stove for another 10 minutes at low, pureeing will release a lot of water from the cooked tomatoes.

Butter Note: I am newly re-obsessed with Dairy Gold which is an Irish butter, from 100% grass-fed, pastured cows.  I know it from when I was a kid and young adult when we went to Ireland.  It’s delicious and very healthy.  I don’t need to tell you how important fats are for your body, but this is a wonderful and recently more available source.  I don’t know what to suggest if you are vegan, but let me know if you try it and what you used.

Buon Appetito!

 

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home cooking

Basta, Pasta!

pasta machineOh, pasta, is there anything better than you for comfort food?  I know you can buy just about any kind these days, all over the place.  But years ago, I was at the Macy’s in Herald Square, the original Macy’s store, and their kitchen area, which used to be called “The Cellar” was having a huge sale.  I saw a shiny silver pasta roller there, and it was all of $25.  Now that I think of it, that was a little pricey, but I still have it and use it, as I did the weekend of Valentine’s Day.  I promised you no mystery, easy to make pasta and this is it.

First, lets talk through how you make pasta and what goes into it.  There is a basic ratio, 3/4 cups flour to each large egg.  And please note, I said large egg, not extra large, jumbo or regular.  It really does make a difference!  The extra large or jumbo have more white, and therefore more liquid in them, which causes you to have to second guess how much more flour you’ll need, and the regular size eggs have less liquid.  You can make pasta with no eggs, but that’s not what I am displaying here, I’ll do that another time.

The kind of flour you use also makes a difference.  There are pastas made from all purpose white, wheat, buckwheat, semolina, etc.  For our purposes, I used half semolina and half all purpose.  I try to avoid the bleached flour, since it’s just more processed than regular, but it really doesn’t make a great deal of difference in texture, only color.  Semolina makes a stronger pasta, and it’s great if you’re trying to make a dough that has to stand up, like for ravioli or lasagne sheets.  What I am doing here is the basic spaghetti, or linguini.  Now, if you don’t have a pasta roller, you can very easily use a rolling pin and a knife to cut the strands.  My only advice then would be to roll the sheets as thin as possible, let them rest, then roll them out again.

Here’s the recipe, which makes about 1 1/2 lbs of pasta:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (or part semolina/part plain flour or part whole wheat)
  • 4 whole large eggs (or, 3 large eggs, 2 yolks, depending upon how yellow you want it)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, fine grained (optional)

There are two methods for mixing the dough, the traditional way is to put the flour in a mound on your board (mix the salt into the flour well before you do this.)  In the middle of the mound make a well with your fingers and drop the eggs into it.  With a fork, begin to beat the eggs, and as you do, start to incorporate the flour from the sides of the well into them.  Keep the walls of the mound as you go, but eventually the whole mixture will leak out. Honestly, using a fork to start and then continuing with your fingers is easier.  The modern method is to use a stand mixer, beat the eggs well before you mix them into the flour on medium.  As it begins to cohere, switch to a dough hook and allow it to mix all the flour in.  With any method, you’ll end up with a sticky shaggy dough, which you will turn out onto a board and knead with your hands.  There isn’t any method, other than using your hands, that will do this better.  As you knead, it will spring into into life, and you’ll have a smooth, yellow dough.

Pasta Resting

Resting pasta in red plastic wrap

Now we come to a critical point, which I can not stress enough.  You must allow this dough to rest and rest for a good long time.  I wrap it in plastic wrap and forget about it for about an hour.  You can let it sit for 30  minutes if you’re impatient, but in order to roll it out, it has to be completely relaxed.  If you don’t rest it enough, the sheets will be bumpy and rough when you roll it out.  So, 60 minutes, go get a glass of wine, take a walk, call someone.  Then come back.

After the rest, cut the ball of dough in half, and each of those halves into 3.  Place one of the pieces on your board, and rewrap the remaining dough.  If you’re using a pasta machine, set the rollers to their widest setting.  Use your hands to press and knead your dough into a rectangular bar.  It should be thin, but chunky. Roll the rectangle through the largest setting.  You’ll end up with a much thinner version of what you started with.  Fold the dough in on itself in thirds, so take one end and fold it into the middle of the dough, then take the other end and fold it over the piece you just folded.  Run this through the machine again on the widest setting.  Then, progressively, roll the dough through increasingly thinner settings. until you end up with a long thin sheet, set this piece aside to dry a bit on a floured surface.  Process the remaining 5 pieces the same way.

Pasta Strips

The rolled strips, and some cut linguine

If you’re using a rolling pin, process in the same way, using the fold technique too.  You should end up with a piece similar to the piece above.  After all the pieces are rolled out, let them sit and dry for at least 20 minutes.  If you’re using the pasta machine, start with the first piece you rolled out and process it though the cutting end, either the linguine or spaghetti setting, and immediately toss the threads with flour so they are all coated, then put them into a heap, and keep watching them and tossing so they don’t stick together.  At this point, you can let them dry a bit more, or just cook them in boiling salted water, for about 2 minutes, then drain well and dress.

If you’re using the rolling pin method, let the strips dry, again for about 20 minutes or so.  Then roll the strips from the short side up into a roll, and use a knife to cut the pasta shapes, thin for spaghetti and thicker for linguine.  Make sure when you’ve cut them, starting with the first sheet you rolled out, toss the completed pasta in flour, and allow them to dry more.

Finished Product

The finished product!

At this point, you can either cook the pasta as you would normally, or you can make them into bird nests and freeze them.  They will last for quite some time in the frozen state.

Please, try this, at a time when you can be leisurely about your prep of this.  It’s not hard, and you’ll wonder why you hadn’t done it long ago!

Enjoy the upcoming week, and Happy March!

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