Monday, October 03, 2011

vegan mofo :: how to succeed at spaghetti sauce
without really trying

Better than Barilla
My family is Polish, so the only spaghetti dinners I ate growing up came out of the Kraft box. And at that point, having nothing authentic to compare them to, I actually liked them. Fast forward about 20 years. I hooked up [and subsequently broke up] with a series of Italian guys, and became spoiled by real-deal-from-Nonna's-kitchen spaghetti sauce, aka "gravy."

If you want tasty sauce, use the best ingredients possible
Although I included a recipe for Marinara Sauce in my first cookbook, the fact is, you don't really need a recipe. There are as many versions of spaghetti sauce as there are cooks. But you do need to remember this old printing adage, which I think also applies to most recipes: "shit in, shit out."

The last of my windowsill basil ended up flavoring my pot of sauce.
To concoct excellent marinara sauce, you need to amass a base of excellent ingredients: best-quality olive oil, fresh garlic and herbs [eg, basil, oregano, parsley] and most important – about 3 pounds of flavor-packed plum tomatoes. Canned or fresh does not matter. But the taste does. If the tomatoes taste neutral and lack that defining sweet acidity [sadly the case for much produce these days], it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that your sauce will end up tasting bland. If using fresh tomatoes, I recommend organic plum tomatoes. Taste them before committing to making an entire pot of sauce. When using canned, try San Marzanos which are naturally sweet and intense. I also like Pomi brand.

Making sauce is meditative and not to be rushed. Do it only when you have time to putter about the kitchen.

Spaghetti Sauce Guidelines
  1. Saute garlic in a liberal amount of olive oil. If desired, at this point, you can also add a chopped onion and/or a shredded carrot or a pinch of red pepper flakes [for Arrabiata Sauce]. If you're using tomato paste [Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't], add it after the garlic/onions are translucent and let it cook for a few minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes. You can peel them first – or not. At this point, you can also add anything else you want, like chopped mushrooms; TVP [for Bolognese Sauce], olives, capers and miso [for Puttanesca Sauce], etc. 
  3. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. From time to time, you'll need to add some stock to the pot and stir. Continue this process [about 2-3 hours, or longer] until the sauce reaches the consistency and density of flavor that you desire. Add fresh herbs about 10 minutes before the sauce is finished. I like a chunky sauce, so I eat it as is. But if you want a "saucier" sauce, feel free to whiz it around in your food processor or blender,
Remember: Spaghetti sauce freezes well. If you're single or are not a big eater, you can freeze it in ice cube trays. That way, you'll have single-serving size "sauce cubes" for those nights when you're too tired to cook.

2 comments: said...

Gorgeous sauce!

I'm a huge fan of batching tomato sauces, for pizza and pasta--you should always have some in the freezer! I grew up on Ragu (yes, capital R, from the jar, Ragu) and there is simply no excuse for it.

Sally Kitten said...

I've just planted my tomatoes for the season. I am so into this. Thanks :)