Friday, July 21, 2017

30, 60 or 90-Minute Pasta Sauce

30, 60 or 90 Minute Pasta Sauce

My mom always had tomato sauce, tomato paste and a packet of spaghetti mix to make pasta sauce as I grew up.  You may recall, in my earliest blog posts, that I had stated that my mom was not the biggest fan of Italian food.  She still isn't, but it did not stop her from making "spaghetti" sauce and her own marinara for "little pizzas".  Remember one of my early blog posts was my recreation of my mom's "Little Pizzas", sliced pepperoni and salami over mozzarella cheese and my mom's marinara on oven toasted English muffins. Despite the simplicity of how my mom made the sauce, those two dishes were among my favorite meals my mom had ever made. Also, as you know, I have made a bazillion pasta sauces and have used just a many different kinds of pasta.  This post, however, I want to share with you how to make a delicious pasta sauce within thirty minutes, but, if you want to simmer it low and slow for a much more sophisticated marriage of flavors, you can simmer for sixty to ninety minutes or longer, to suit your own palette, using both dried and/or fresh ingredients. This sauce is versatile for whatever pasta or marinara uses you may have for it. Let's get to it!

A Study of Spices and Herbs
I am often asked, "Why shouldn't I just buy a bottle of pasta sauce?"  True!  Why not?  I am not a nay-sayer about jarred sauces, but, if you have diabetic or cardiac dietary restrictions, just read the labels. Most jarred pasta sauces are high in sugar and sodium, both.  If you make your own sauce at home, you control not only the quality of the ingredients but what ingredients you use. 🌿🌿🌿

The same applies with purchasing packets of seasonings.  My mom almost always used seasoning packets for tacos and spaghetti. They taste great! No problem with that!  Problem is, however, there is almost always more sodium than I or my family needs in each packet.  Why not use it for emergencies, or extra last-minute guests? Why not use a bottled pasta sauce for those situations?  Or, consider this....double or triple the sauce, divide it, and freeze the extra sauce!

🎀 Drop. Boom!

I love to cook with fresh herbs but I often use dried herbs, as well.  The two offer different layers of flavor.  Fresh herbs season quickly but not intensely. Dried herbs contain condensed, intensified flavors as they naturally dry and heat up.  I often combine them when making particular sauces or braising liquids. Layering each flavor of your dish is extremely important.  

Here are my dry go-to spices and dry herbs for pasta sauces:

garlic powder or granulated garlic
onion powder or granulated onion
Italian parsley
Italian seasoning mix  (dried herbs)*
Crushed red pepper flakes**

I use crushed red pepper flakes when I want to make a spicy arrabbiata sauce***. I also add Fresno chile, julienne sliced or discs.  

Dried Italian seasoning, added to other dried spices, kicks up the aroma and flavors you are looking for in a pasta sauce. We'll talk more about this a little further on in this article. 

Fresh Aromatics and Herbs:  

1 large red or yellow onion, chopped
2 - 3 shallots, finely chopped if you prefer less onion aroma and taste
2 large or three medium garlic cloves, grated or finely chopped
6 - 10 fresh basil leaves rolled, chiffonade or finely chopped (chiffonade: ribbon cut, good for sauce flavorings and garnish)
2 sprigs fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped
4 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves peeled off backwards
3 - 4 fresh oregano sprigs,  leaves pulled or plucked from the woody stems

Now, on to the actual sauce.......

Canned tomatoes
I use Cento products as much as possible.  Cento is not a sponsor of my humble blog, I just Love their products, is all.  I use a 28-ounce can of crushed or pureed tomatoes and a smaller can of fire roasted or Italian style diced tomatoes, 14.5 or 16-ounce cans (when I can find the 16-ounce cans).  

I also use 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar or a third of a cup of red wine, such as a cabernet.  I sometimes use both and have a little left over for me! 🍷  Cheers!

I made a double batch of my simple but flavorful pasta sauce.  The prep time takes the longest, actually, because I intentionally use fresh ingredients as much as possible.  

Chop the onion, grate or finely chop the garlic, prep the fresh herbs. Now for a time-saving spices and dried herbs tip:  create your own Italian Pasta Spice Blend.  Place all of the dry herbs and spices in a spice grinder.  

1 teaspoon salt and pepper
2 tablespoons paprika (rounded tablespoons)
1 rounded teaspoon of thyme, parsley, oregano and a quarter teaspoon cumin seed
1 rounded teaspoon basil

You can double or triple these amounts for future sauces or if you plan to make double or triple the amount of sauce now.  If you have leftover spice blend, place it in a mason jar, lid tight, in a dark cupboard for up to three months. I do that, and the same with my Mexican Spice Blend. 

Next, bring four quarts of water to a roiling boil. Generously season the water with sea salt, as, you know this, it is the only chance you get to season the pasta.  In addition, add three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a large pot or high-sided skillet over medium-high heat, depending on how much sauce you intend to make.

Note:  Add and caramelize whatever protein you want to use prior to sauteing the onion and garlic.

You can certainly make the sauce without meat and add it when you desire to in the future!

When the oil begins to ripple, add the onion, a little salt and saute for about three or four minutes, until the onions begin to soften and discolor. Add the garlic and stir that in well.  When the onion and garlic are very aromatic and are beginning to caramelize, add the red wine vinegar splash and, using a wooden spoon, scrape the burnt bits from the bottom of the pot.  If you browned up a protein, scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot or skillet. The red wine vinegar or wine works to loosen up burnt bits, making it easier to scrape up those burnt bits which are full of flavor! 

Once the onions begins to soften and appear translucent, add the 28-ounce can of tomato puree and the can of Italian-style diced tomatoes, or, all four cans if you are doubling the recipe!  Bring the mixture to a boil, and as it comes to a boil, add another tablespoon of your spices and herbs, dried or fresh, and incorporate well. 

I added fresh herbs at the start along with a rounded tablespoon of my spice blend.  

The rest depends on your plan.  You can simmer the sauce for fifteen minutes and serve your pasta or you can simmer it for thirty, sixty or ninety minutes, or more, if you wish!  Fifteen minutes before serving, add a good sprinkle of the dried herbs mix, stir well, and serve a few minutes afterward.  

Toss with pasta with the sauce, however long you simmer it, and grate a good amount of parmigiano-reggiano over it, garnish with fresh basil or Italian Flat-Leaf Parsley and serve!

One more view!!!

Thank You for your time and consideration - and patience - with this rather long post.  I seem to have made it far more complicated than it really is.  The big idea, double the sauce ingredients and freeze it for a later meal or two!

Once your recover from this long post, go cook something for someone you love! 😍

In-House Cook


Sunday, July 9, 2017

My Great Virginia Beach Trip: Beach Fun, Climate Change and Food!

My Great Virginia Beach Trip:
Beach Fun, Climate Change and Food!

Early in June, I took a six hour flight to Virginia Beach to visit my dear friend, Morgan. When I stepped off the plane into the portal, I was shocked by the warmth (at 12:45am) and at the humidity. The day after, we had lunch at one of Guy Fieri's restaurants, which was excellent, by-the-way, and then toured the USS Wisconsin, a battleship, and oh my lord, I was soaking with sweat!  Mind you, I am used to California's relative "dry heat", just like they say in Arizona.  92 degrees f with 88% humidity was quite a climate change for me!  Later in the week, however, a series of thunderstorms made their way through, as they are today, and the lightning and thunder and downpours reminded me of Arizona's monsoons.  Very warm, very humid but great fun to watch and listen! 

While I was there, Morgan took me to a couple of different beaches.  One was a very popular beach and I enjoyed taking my photo with the iconic bronze statue of Poseidon.  

In addition, Morgan took me to another beach where I swam in Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic all at once.  I think, anyway.  The water was like bath water and we witnessed a small, beautiful wedding on the beach.  I swam and played in the water like a little kid.  

Those who know me well, know that I love the beach, which is my happy place. And now you know, too!

Now, as a daily Thank You to my hosts, I made dinner for my hosts each night.  I seared steaks and oven roasted potatoes the first night. Delightful, filling and we had leftovers for another night.  Simply seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried rosemary and thyme and tossed in extra virgin olive oil, I oven roasted the potatoes (baby new potatoes cut in wedges) for 25 minutes at 400 degrees until crisp and golden.   

Isn't this the cleanest oven you have Ever seen?

I simply seasoned the ribeye steaks with salt and pepper and let them come to room temperature. I seared them and plated them with the potatoes after they had rested a few minutes and served. 

But first, I seasoned the oil in the skillet over low heat with crushed garlic cloves. 

The seared steaks resting.

And Served!  

Next, Seasoned, Seared and Oven Finished Chicken Breasts with Mrs. M's rice pilaf and southern green beans. 

I only have two photos of this dish. I lost the photo of the plated dish.  So sorry!  I halved and quartered chicken breasts and seasoned them with evoo (extra virgin olive oil), salt, pepper, Italian dried seasonings and a little extra dried rosemary. I seasoned the evoo in the skillet with crushed garlic cloves over low heat, removed the garlic and raised the heat to medium-high.   I gave each piece of chicken a good sear until golden brown on both sides, then oven finished.  Tender and juicy interior and flavorful exterior crust is the delicious result. 

This was a tag team meal.  Mrs. M made rice pilaf (above, which smelled insanely delicious and tasted just as awesome!) along with green beans sauteed in butter and garlic. The aroma was just like My Grandma P made.  Simply amazing. 

I wish I had a plated photo for you.  I took one but seem to have lost that.  My apologies.  I am sure you can imagine how beautiful the plating was, chicken resting atop the pilaf and the beans cascading down the other side of the pilaf.  

Finally, my crowning dish!  

Steak Fajitas!

This dish, too, was a bit of a team effort.  Morgan and I purchased an onion, guacamole and salsa.  We already had the steak, leftovers from Wednesday night and, Mrs. M had halved red and green bell peppers left over from a recent meal.  Incredible pantry and team meal!

While I sliced the onion and steaks, Morgan sliced the peppers expertly. I added some evoo to mister skillet, the same skillet I'd been using all week, Thanks, Mrs. M, over medium-high heat and added the onions and peppers seasoned simply with salt and pepper. I sauteed those for three minutes to allow the onions to sweat their sweet juices and then I added the thinly slivered steaks. I added dried oregano, thyme, paprika and cayenne powder, just a half teaspoon of each.  We were going for mild that night, not on fire.  

I'd added the onions and slivered peppers first with salt and pepper.  Sauteed for three minutes over medium-high heat. 

Next, I'd added the slivered steaks and sauteed the mix until the onions were getting translucent, the peppers starting to soften and the steaks just a little pink.  

We'd added some of the fajita mixture to a flour tortilla (that was my choice, btw) with a dollop of guacamole and a couple of drops of salsa. All of this was put together in 30 minutes.  A true thirty minute meal!  

I hope you enjoyed my trip down memory lane.  I had a great time and loved cooking for my hosts. Y'all know me, I cannot go Anywhere without cooking!

As always, Thank You for your time, viewer/readership and consideration.  

Now! Go cook for someone you love!  

*Note: Coca Cola Company is not a sponsor of my humble blog.  This big chair was on the beach sidewalk.