In years gone by, the freshness of the ripe tomatoes and basil picked right from the garden presented a certain appreciation for every bite. The exceptional quality of the fresh poultry, meat, fresh caught fish and peak quality fresh vegetables all played a big part in the skill of cooking truly flavorful, nutritious meals out of the simplest ingredients.
In our times, with everybody getting on board the “early train” to work, we thank food provisions who offer good quality canned tomatoes and fresh basil. These staples are handy and are sometimes more efficient than cultivating your own little farm. If you can find the time to plant some basil in a window planter and watch as it grows, you will be awarded for your effort at the first harvest.
Italians use a well-seasoned flavorful tomato sauce cooked to perfection, according to the cook’s style, to create several celebrated succulent dishes. Tomato sauce or longer cooked tomato gravy (usually cooked with meat) combined with pasta, meat and cheese is recognized in one shape or form in many familiar baked dishes such as Lasagna, Stuffed Shells, Manicotti, Chicken or Eggplant Parmigiano.
As winter gracefully flows into spring, there are still a few nippy days ahead of us. Occasions to hang around the kitchen, flick on the oven and load it with a wonderful baked dish haven’t vanished yet.
To prepare a baked meal such as Chicken Parmigiano It’s best to prepare each component of this dish ahead of time leaving just a final assemble. The best part of building a dish like these is that you only have to position it in the oven for a final bake. Results are an outstanding everyday dinner or a larger special occasion feast, lending you plenty of time to put together a mixed salad or some greens while it bakes.
The first step is to put together a large batch of tomato sauce on a Sunday. The first option is to leave it plain (marinara sauce), cool and store in airtight containers that have been labeled with the date. Freeze up to three months for the best quality.
The second option is to add meatballs, brasciole, sausage and pork spare ribs then simmer slow and low for 2-1/2 hours (deep red gravy) until it has thickened. Have a great Sunday meal with pasta and meat and store the leftover sauce in tightly sealed containers, label and freeze. The meat can also be frozen with some sauce to be used later for a pasta dish or made into a saucy sub for a mid-week meal.
From my cookbook, Amelia’s Kitchen, my very own large recipe for Italian tomato sauce is displayed below. In the next blog, I will share my style of making Chicken Parmigiana with the already prepared tomato sauce.
Sunday's Rich Italian Tomato Sauce
Rich and robust large tomato sauce recipe eaten plain or infused with meat; a recipe with many uses
1 can (106-ounce) whole Italian plum tomatoes (Costco size)
2 (28 ounce) cans of crushed tomatoes
3 cans of tomato paste plus 3 cans of water to each can
1 head of garlic, chopped (10 cloves)
1 very large onion, chopped (3-4 cups)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons of oregano
2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning
8 fresh basil leaves, rolled and sliced (chiffonade)
Heat oil in a large saucepan, on medium heat. Add onions and sauté until transparent. Add garlic sautéing until soft. (do not brown); add the whole tomatoes - pressing with a potato masher to smash. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and heat. Put 3 cans of tomato paste into one of the empty tomato cans and mix in the water, stirring to incorporate. Stir tomato paste mixture into the tomatoes in the pot. Add herbs and seasoning, bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, half covered, until reduced by 1 inch. Taste by dipping a piece of bread into the sauce. Re-season if necessary. Cool. For a thick smooth sauce, use a hand blender or place cooled sauce in a food processor to remove any large chunks of tomato.
Use plain or add meatballs, sausage, brasciole, or gravy meat such as spareribs, a small chunk of pork shoulder and beef chuck to make a meat sauce. If adding meat, brown in a large pot first then add the prepared tomato sauce to the browned meat. If using wine, add after browning the meat, cook off alcohol for a minute or so - then add the tomato sauce. Wine lends its own deep flavor to the sauce. Taste and re-season.
Store the extra tomato sauce in freezer containers, label and freeze up to 3 months for the best quality. Defrost in refrigerator.
When you open up your freezer to grab a container of tomato sauce, you will be pleased for the little effort you put into it. You will think to yourself, "I want to do this more often". Homemade sauce is much better tasting and better for you than jarred sauce, even after freezing. The comforting thought of not having to run out the door to buy something for dinner, then pull out the pots after all that, will make you want to have some things ready to cook on hand so you can enjoy cooking at home more often.
Eat Healthy with a Buon Appetito! Amelia
See you next week at Greenwich Adult Continuing Ed Class 3 at Greenwich High School. New hours this year are 6:30pm to 8:30pm by request. Sign up here www.greenwichace.org/coursecatalog.