Thursday, March 8, 2012

Happy Birthday to Blog! (oh - and my favorite tomato sauce too, plus bonus tomato-rice soup recipe!)

(I don't know why the line spacing is being so weird and inconsistent. Sorry for the non-readability. Maybe 3-D glasses would help?)

Yesterday was my food blog's 2-yr birthday. We celebrate so many more birthdays in this household than we did two years, seven months, three weeks and three days ago. It's pretty fun, although I just learned yesterday that our birthday-cake-making is going to get a little more complicated for the foreseeable future: my not-quite-one-year-old son is not only allergic to peanuts (not surprising because of my own nut allergy) but also wheat, egg, and - semi-uniquely - chickpeas. He's probably allergic to a slew of other things too (I'll be shocked if he's not allergic to tree nuts) but our pediatrician limited the first round of testing to things I could think of based on his recent reactions; he was tested for the main culprits as well as chickpeas, because I'd mentioned he'd reacted to hummus. I don't want to be melodramatic about this because it's not like he has leukemia or seizures and his reactions have never presented as anaphylactic... but it does totally suck in the short-term and, in the long-term, my work in the kitchen will involve new levels of rigor, research and thoughtfulness that I am not that excited about at the moment. And I'm sad because my husband makes the best bread on the planet and we eat a lot of pizza and TONS of eggs and like half my meatless meals involve chickpeas. On a more positive note: dairy's cool. And they make gluten free "puffs", which are my children's favorite snack, despite the fact that they taste like air. We will survive.

Thanks for listening.

Now let's talk tomato sauce. You might think it's not all that worth talking about. (In which case, I don't understand you.) Or maybe you think it's over-talked about on the interwebs. (In which case, I admit I've felt the same periodically.) The reason we're going to talk about it anyway is that this tomato sauce is really quite wonderful, it's super versatile, and it's been complimented by pretty much every one who's tasted it at one of my cooking classes or at a dinner party where, more likely than not, I serve lasagna with this tomato sauce as its base. Compliments to me are like clapping is to Tinkerbell - my life source, really, as well as a good means from which I gauge what is worth posting on here. Sometimes I don't feel that relying on my palate alone is fair. I eat some weird stuff sometimes.

This tomato sauce is not weird though. It is aromatic and rich, both buttery and just-enough acidic, it ages well in the refrigerator and freezer, and it's simple to make, with time doing most of the work. It goes great with meat...

tomato sauce for carnivores


And it's gluten free. (Ugh. I said it. I hated it. Although, being more generous of spirit, maybe this blog will be accessible to more people as I get more familiar with gluten- and egg-free cooking. That would be cool. Rewarding even.)

tomato sauce ingredients

My recipe calls for whole tomatoes. Popular opinion is that the best tomatoes are canned whole and the less-best tomatoes are the ones chopped up and thrown into the "diced" or "crushed" tomato jars. Since summer, I've been using the roma tomatoes that I canned with my sister-in-law. (I used up my last two jars the day these photos were taken! (Sniff sniff!)) San Marzano tomatoes are recommended by the food magazines. But, truth be told, this recipe is kind of full-proof. As indicated in the recipe, chopped fresh tomatoes work just as well (although I tend to add 1-2 tablespoons tomato paste if I use fresh tomatoes, just to give it an intense tomato-y boost). And at the store where I teach, we use jarred diced tomatoes, because that is what they sell (and they're super good).

If it makes no difference to you though, start with the whole canned tomatoes because it's fun to watch them evolve as they stew, reduce, and thicken.

whole tomatoes
tomato sauce simmering
tomato sauce thickening
the best parts

Ideas for use: toss with pasta and 1 lb of browned meat or sausage; throw in some red chili flakes and poach some eggs for an Italian variation on Shakshuka; use it instead of jarred marinara in lasagna; tomato-rice soup (recipe below); with some cheese to make an herby margherita pizza.

Also - the fresh basil makes the whole sauce taste, well, fresher, so it's worth a trip to the store or farmer's market if it's in season (or grown in a greenhouse near you).

Chunky Herbed Tomato Sauce
Adapted from The Bride and Groom's First Cookbook (cheesy title, I know, but a really great cookbook, one that all of you should have whether or not you are a bride or groom)
Makes ~6 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 large (26- or 28-oz) jars whole tomatoes* (or 3-4 lbs fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with juices and seeds + 2 tablespoons tomato paste)
1 cube vegetable or chicken bouillon (optional, but recommended, especially if your tomatoes are fresh and/or unsalted; I really like Rapunzel vegetable bouillon cubes)
1 tablespoon honey (or 2 teaspoons sugar)
½ teaspoon each: dried oregano, marjoram, parsley (or 1-2 teaspoons “Italian herb blend” of some sort)
2 teaspoons dried basil (use ¼ cup chopped fresh basil in summer – toss it in with the butter)
2 tablespoons butter

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or stock pot over medium heat. Add onion, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add garlic, stir and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes, bouillon cube, honey, and dried herbs, and bring to boil, stirring with a spatula to break up tomatoes. Allow to simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until about half of liquid has evaporated. Stir in the butter. Taste and adjust the seasonings. The sauce will keep, covered and refrigerated, for 1 week, or in the freezer for a few months. Its flavor improves over time.

* For a smoother sauce, start with jarred tomato sauce instead of tomatoes OR puree the sauce in a blender or food processor after simmering, but before adding the basil and butter.

Tomato-Rice Soup
Adapted from Mark Bittman
Serves 4

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 cups Chunky Herbed Tomato Sauce (recipe above)
1-2 cups cooked brown or white rice (depending on how hearty you'd like your soup)
2 cups cooked chickpeas or shredded chicken (optional)
¼ to ½ cup red wine or 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar

Put all ingredients except red wine in a large soup pot. Bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in red wine or vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with crackers, croutons, or quesadillas.

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