Welcome to the First Installment of “Sunday Suppers”

12 Jan

This is ziti with the basic Dead-of Winter sauce dolled up with a pound each of Italian sausage, ground beef and some frozen spinach.  I added just a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, too. Just for fun, I baked the whole thing like a casserole.

Welcome to Sunday Suppers!

Sometimes it might be called “Saturday Suppers,” it just depends on when it happens.  It will happen on either a Saturday or a Sunday, mainly because I enjoy alliteration, and Monday Suppers just sounds dumb.  So, what’s all this supper business anyway?  Well, as shocking as this may sound, one cannot live by dessert alone.  I know; I know–hard to believe.  I was thinking last evening that, while folks might struggle with figuring out what to serve for dessert, how to mix a cake or how to keep their cookies from spreading every once in awhile, they probably struggle with “What’s for dinner?” a lot more frequently.  So, as a person who enjoys all sorts of food, once a week, I think I’ll whip off the cute pink pastry chef bandanna and replace it with a toque and help you answer that question.

My thoughts on cooking are roughly the same as they are on baking.  Actually, I allow myself much more room to experiment on the savory side of the house, where chemistry and formulas aren’t nearly as prevalent as they are in the bake shop.  Learn the techniques and methods, understand flavor profiles, add your spin to every dish and have fun in the kitchen.

I probably am not going to be giving many measurements here.  If I do, you’ll get a range.  Since everyone has different tastes, who am I to specify the amount of any ingredient down to the 1/4 teaspoon?

So now, without further ado, I give you the first installment of Sunday Suppers:

Dead-of-Winter Pasta Sauce

In the winter, instead of being able to pluck ripe, juicy tomatoes off the vine, we have to pluck cans off the shelf.  There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just the way it is.

  • 2-4 TBSP olive oil–I use extra virgin here because I can’t help myself.  You could use a light olive oil or a neutral vegetable oil, if you prefer
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1-2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning–I still have oregano and of course, the Valiant Rosemary, out in the old herb garden, thumbing their noses at the cold.  If you do, too, use them.
  • red pepper flake, to taste
  • 1-2 TBSP tomato paste
  • wee squeeze of honey–maybe a teaspoon or 2.
  • a few splashes of wine, if you’re feeling fancy.  The wine is optional.
  • kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 large cans tomatoes–diced, or whole is fine.  If you have one of each, use them both.  If  all you have is puree, use it, but just know that your sauce won’t have much texture.  I’ve used a can of puree and a can of whole that I kind of smushed with the back of a spoon.  If you only have the smaller cans, use 3-4 of them.  If you only have 1 big can, cut down on the other ingredients a bit and make less.  No need to get frantic.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil, to finish

Heat your pan over medium heat until it’s nice and hot.  This takes about 4 minutes on my stove.  I set the timer.

Add the oil and wait for it to shimmy a bit–another 30 seconds to a minute, depending on your stove and how much oil you’re using.

Toss in the onions and then the garlic.  Add a heavy pinch of salt and pepper, as well as the red pepper flake and dried herbs.  Hold the dried herbs in the palm of one hand and smush them with the thumb of your other hand.  Be firm.  You’re trying to release as much of their oils as you can.  Test me and see if I’m right:  smell the herbs, pre-rub, then smell them again, post-rub.  You’ll be able to tell a difference.

Stir all of this around until the onions are translucent.  You can let them get a little golden, but that’s it.  Keep the heat adjusted so you hear a contented sizzle as opposed to an angry sputtering.  When your onions are lovely, add the tomato paste and honey and stir that around.  The sugars in the tomato paste and honey will start to caramelize and add a nice depth of flavor to your sauce.  If you don’t have any tomato paste, it’s really no big deal–your sauce will still be tasty without it.  Ditto with the honey, although you might think about adding a teaspoon or so of sugar later in the cooking process.

If you’re feeling fancy, you can add a few splashes of wine at this point.  If not, just keep going.  If you do add the wine, let it cook and reduce until your onions are almost dry again.

Add the cans of tomato and heat through.  Taste; you will probably need to add more salt and pepper.  Let this whole thing simmer for about 20 minutes or so, add a splash of olive oil, and it’s good to go.  It will taste even better if you cool it, refrigerate it and then reheat it.  It’s not necessary, though.  The leftovers will taste great the next day, anyway.

How To Finish Your Pasta Like A Pro

  1. Cook pasta in plenty of well-salted water.  Do not add oil, or the pasta will just be slippery and not absorb your sauce.
  2. Before draining, dip out about 1/3-1/2 cup of cooking water.  Set that aside, then drain your pasta.
  3. Put all the pasta back in the pan.  And put the pan back over high heat.
  4. Add as much sauce as you like to the pasta (if you like drier pasta, add less.  If you like it “juicy,” add more), the cooking water, some unsalted butter or a splash of heavy cream, a drizzle of olive oil and a few gratings of parmesan cheese (the canned kind is just fine, if that’s all you have).  Stir this around–it will boil and sputter and hiss–until the sauce has reduced to a lovely consistency.
  5. Plate it up, drizzle on some olive oil (or not) and finish with a wee pinch of finishing salt, a grind or two of black pepper, and a little grated cheese.

Notes:

  • The chunkier your sauce is, the heartier your pasta can be.
  • Cook your pasta so it still is a little firm in the center–al dente.  You’ll be cooking it some more once the sauce is in, and overcooked pasta is a mushy mess.
  • Adding a little cooking water plus the extra fat (cream/butter/oil) at the end and stirring gives you a bit of an emulsion.  The sauce will be silky and wonderful.
  • There is nothing sadder than a plate of naked noodles with some red sauce dropped on top.  Let all your pasta soak up the flavor.

Oh, yeah, about that picture up there.  It’s the basic Dead-of-Winter Pasta Sauce with a pound each of Italian sausage and ground beef.  I added a bunch of frozen spinach, a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg, and finished it with a splash of cream and olive oil.  Just for fun, I threw the whole thing in a casserole dish and baked it for half an hour.  It was delightful.

And that concludes this Premier Edition of Sunday Suppers.  If this just brings up more questions than it answers, let me know in the comments section.

4 Responses to “Welcome to the First Installment of “Sunday Suppers””

  1. Daily Spud January 12, 2009 at 4:26 am #

    You’ll have me smushing dried herbs and adding honey to my tomato sauce now – educational (and entertaining) as ever!

  2. Don January 12, 2009 at 4:42 am #

    Adding the water back in is a new twist for me……never heard of that. I can’t wait to try it. Of course I will ad the cream too.

    Any objection to adding mushrooms or green peppers……or maybe a little meat?

    • onlinepastrychef January 12, 2009 at 4:51 am #

      Add whatever you like; that’s the beauty of this! Personally, I’d add them both at the beginning w/onions so they cook way down and lots of flavor; you can add them whenever you want. Any meat is fair game, as well. The photo is of a variation I did w/sausage and ground beef. Make it your own, and enjoy it:)

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