Saturday, October 2, 2010

Pasta with two tomato sauces

This is going to be the main dish for my first class at Cooking For Complete Beginners on Oct 10, 2010.

My idea is to present a vegetarian marinara sauce and a tomato-based meat sauce for dressing pasta, in this case, penne rigata. The primary object is to make each from scratch and without any added sugar as I see so often used in both recipes and store-bought sauces.

Here are the recipes for the sauces followed by my personal comments.

Marinara Sauce
2 pounds of fresh vine-ripened tomatoes or 1 28 oz can of Muir Glen whole tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
red pepper flakes to taste (pepperoncini)
1/4 cup olive oil
branch of fresh basil

If using fresh tomatoes, you should skin them using the following method. Fill a medium (about 3qts) saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Meanwhile prepare a good sized bowl of ice water. Clean the tomatoes of stems then add to the boiling water in batches boiling them for 30-60 seconds. Remove to the ice water where you should be able to simply rub the skins off. Move the skinned tomatoes to a separate bowl while you finish with the remaining tomatoes.

If using canned tomatoes, empty the contents into a bowl and crush with your hands.

(Note: Referring to fresh tomatoes, only use them when they are vine-ripened, either from your garden or from a reliable source like a farmer's market when tomatoes are in season. Don't use the crappy ones like those you find in a Safeway in February, for instance. They won't work in this recipe as they are of a specific variety that has been bred primarily to be force-ripened and shipped long distances, not at all for flavor or nutritional purposes. High-quality canned tomatoes, which like Muir Glen are picked at the height of the season, are much more preferable.)

Peel and thinly slice the garlic. Heat oil in a skillet or saute pan over medium heat then add the garlic and the pepper flakes. Cook the garlic until almost brown. Slowly add the tomatoes from the bowl into the pan so as not to splatter the hot oil. Add a pinch of salt and stir it all up.

Once the sauce is simmering, reduce the heat allowing it to cook at a simmer uncovered for at least 45 minutes. This will have the effect of reducing the water in the sauce considerably but you do not want it to completely dry out, burn or scorch so add small amounts of water in order to keep it fairly loose. If any sauce does start to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a small amount (about 2Tbs) and use a wood spatula to scrape up the stuck parts. When the sauce is 5 minutes short of finishing, rip up the basil leaves and stir into the sauce.

After 30 minutes of cooking, fill a large pot with 4qts water and bring to a boil. Add the pasta to the pot when the sauce is 10 min shy of finishing. Once the pasta water is boiling again use some of it to keep the sauce liquid. Cook the pasta to about a minute short of the package instructions as you will finish the pasta in the saucepan with the sauce.

When the pasta is done, add it to the saucepan and cook for about another minute. Take it off the heat and move into a serving bowl keeping it covered until serving which should be shortly if not immediately afterward.

This is the concept behind the recipe.
The main idea is to cook the tomatoes slowly for a fairly long time (at least 45-60 minutes) in order to break them down, to allow the combined flavors (oil, garlic, tomatoes, salt, pepperoncini, basil) to blend, and to reduce the inherent water in the combined ingredients as much as possible without allowing the sauce to dry out or burn. I am completely against using any added sugar in these types of recipes as it is not at all necessary when using the freshest of ingredients. If you are using fresh tomatoes and they do not yield plenty of sweetness in the final sauce then the tomatoes were not really fresh. Alternatively, a good product like Muir Glen canned tomatoes will always have tomatoes that were picked at the height of the growing season and with no additives. If you cannot get fresh tomatoes or use a good canned product, then make another recipe entirely. Adding sugar to compensate for inferior ingredients is a very bad thing, IMO.
When I cook the garlic at the beginning, my idea is to caramelize it, reducing its inherent water to almost the point of burning it but not quite. Some cooks think this adds bitterness to the flavor but when used in the base of a recipe like this, I think it yields quite the opposite effect in that it ultimately sweetens the final flavor. This is one of those things that I think culinary writers might repeat as a golden rule they've learned from elsewhere without having experienced it for themselves. But that's just my opinion.
Also, feel free to spin the meat sauce into a vegetarian option by simply leaving the meat out.

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