Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Marinara Sauce - This Time it IS Your Italian Grandmother's Red Gravy

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This is one of those "application" posts.  In order to make dish B, I need to make dish A.  This is dish A, but tomorrow I have an amazing dish B... Lasagna!

I like to use phrases like, "Not your Grandmothers's..." (Like my "Not your Grandmother's Herbes de Provence").  Often, with availability of ingredients, new fangled cooking appliances or even building on years of other cooks experimenting, updated recipes really are better.  But also often, all you are really doing is dressing up a classic that doesn't really need to be dressed up.

And marinara sauce is one of those things that really doesn't need much of a dressing up.  A few months ago, Tomatoes were everywhere.  Cheap; $2.50 a pound was the going rate for sorted, top quality, and as little as a dollar for a bag if you are willing to take fluctuating sizes, a few bruises and variations in color.  If you are planning ahead, grab the dollar a bag ones.  In fact, grab 5 or 6 bags.  OR, in the winter months, head to the big box store and grab that HUGE can (again, cheap, less than 3 bucks for a big pot full of skinless quartered tomatoes).  Make a big batch, freeze in bags of 1 cup size each bag and you will be very glad you did.  February is just around the corner.  I don't think my wife will take me to the tropics this year.  But with a few bags of these in the freezer, next winter, I can take my wife to the Mediterranean.  Well, at least her taste buds.

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 clove Garlic, smashed and minced
3 pounds ripe Tomatoes (for this post, I used a big can), skins removed
1 tsp sugar
and a few leaves of Basil
2 TBS "Not your Grandmother's Herbes de Provence"   
or, use the herbs you like, thyme, rosemary, lavender, whatever you please.  My  "Not your Grandmother's Herbes de Provence" herb mixture works great, and since I always have a little bag of it handy, easy and fast, and is a ready made batch of the herbs I like.

Smashing and mincing garlic is easy.  Take a wide chef's knife, put a garlic clove between the flat of the knife and a cutting board and smash away with the flat of your hand.  Then just mince away.  Easy and fast!

And now, once all the prep work is done, it is finally time to cook.  In a big pot, heat the olive oil.  Add the minced garlic and sauté for just a few minutes. 

While that is working, rough cut the tomatoes into quarters.  Be careful and don't cut your hand, but best to quarter the tomatoes over the skillet. Every bit of juice you lose on the cutting board is just a bit less flavor.  Also, while you are cutting, remove any hard parts.  the stem end, and if the center is not ripe and red, pull it out.

Add a little sugar, add the "Not your Grandmother's Herbes de Provence" spices (or your own favorites) and stew away at a gentle simmer.  At a simmer, it takes about 45 minutes for the tomatoes to break down properly.  BUT, the longer you allow them to simmer, the sweeter the sauce will be.  I was doing other things around the house, and let mine cook for an hour and a half.  If you have less time, you can cook at a higher heat.  But keep an eye on them and stir often so they do not scorch.

And here it is after the hour and a half... All bubbly, sweet and filled with flavors.  I moved this in a couple of batches into a food processor and pulsed for just a few times to break it up.  At the last minute, add some fresh minced Basil leaf.  If you want a thin sauce, pulse a lot.  If you want a thicker sauce, no real need to pulse at all.  Me, i like the smooth even look, texture and taste of a thick but not chunky sauce.

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Can you stand a little history???  As originally printed in the WISEGEEK.COM site...
Marinara sauce originated with sailors in Naples in the 16th century, after the Spaniards introduced the tomato to their neighboring countries. The word marinara is derived from marinaro, which is Italian for “of the sea.” Because of this, many people mistakenly believe marinara sauce includes some type of fish or seafood. However, marinara sauce loosely translates as “the sauce of the sailors,” because it was a meatless sauce extensively used on sailing ships before modern refrigeration techniques were invented. The lack of meat and the sheer simplicity of making tasty marinara sauce were particularly appealing to the cooks on board sailing ships, because the high acid content of the tomatoes and the absence of any type of meat fat resulted in a sauce which would not easily spoil.
Even though marinara sauce has a reputation for being easy to make at home, there are currently several hundred different types of marinara offered on the market. Perhaps the increased popularity of marinara sauce is due to recent research which revealed that cooked tomatoes are rich with lycopene, an antioxidant which may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
Written by A. B. Kelsey
 So, simple, fast, easy to make and much richer than the jars you get in the stores.  And CHEAPER!  Save a dollar here and 50 cents there, and you have the budget to buy those little extras (like Kalamata Olives that add so much extra flavor to a simple tuna casserole (well, not so simple actually)).  But, that's a post for another day

See you tomorrow for this...

Oh and BTW, I am continuing my "Top Five" project with this post.  I am the first to admit that I have come into cooking late in life.  This is my first of my "top five" recipes of things I am always stunned that I can do.

Fresh made Marinara sauce!  Who knew I could do this???

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