TSM is Italian. Long before we met, I told God that I wanted to marry an Italian and that I wanted his last name to start with a “C” so that I could be a “Mrs. C” and be super cool like Joanie and Ritchie’s mom from Happy Days. I would be the popular mom and all the neighborhood kids would want to come to our house because I was just that spectacular and my kids were phenomenally sensational.
The good news is that God answered my prayers for an Italian husband with a last name that began with a “C”. The bad news is that I’m unable to have children of my own, so I’m not sure if I’m as cool I was expecting I’d be… Alrighty, now that I’ve completely depressed the crap out of everyone, let’s talk saucy. I mean, let’s talk about sauce.
The first time I made spaghetti for my Italian husband I made it like my Mother made it. I love my Mom…I don’t love her cooking. Let me paint a vivid picture of my mother’s culinary skills so you can understand where my head was as I prepared “spaghetti” for my sweetie. My beloved Mother’s lasagna had to be served in a bowl because it was so watery, and she cooked pork chops until sawdust flew out of them when you tried to cut into one, AND, when she was feeling exceptionally creative she would sometimes just serve us prepared tuna fish for supper. Good times, people. Those were good times!
I opened up a jar of Ragu and I boiled a package of Creamette (seriously crappy brand of pasta my friends) noodles until they were fat and mooshy, hid the empty jar at the bottom of the wastebasket and excitedly served my fabulous Italian meal to my Sweet Baboo. As you can imagine, my mother’s interpretation of this meal that I’d duplicated was NOT well received by TSM. Based on the look on his face after the first bite I was fairly certain I’d be driven out to some remote location by large men wearing expensive suits and leather gloves that had necks the size of tree trunks and were pretty good at making what they were about to do to me “Look like an accident”. Yes, the look was that bad!
I’m happy to report that being hauled off to be “taken care of” never happened and although hubby ate what I’d made I was forced to promise that I would NEVER, EVER bring home a jar of pre-made marinara sauce again. He would show me how he made it, and that is what started my love affair for real Italian food.
This recipe never turns out the same way twice because one day you could have some tomatoes that taste really sweet, and other times they might be rather acidic. One time your garlic might be really strong, and another time it might be more mild. Your dried herbs could be really fresh, flavorful and pungent, or they could be old and bland. Your fresh herbs could be in perfect condition and look like they were just plucked form the garden, or you might notice that mafia snitches have emerged from car trunks looking more robust than your wilted, sad little herbs. I simply focus on getting the seasonings to our liking and balancing the flavors so that when you take a bite, you are hit with every herb, the cheese, the tomatoes, the garlic- you can taste it all.
If I could impart one piece of knowledge on people it would be to taste everything as you’re making a recipe. By that I mean, take a taste, close your eyes, breathe in, let the food sit on your tongue for a bit, ask yourself what you taste and really THINK about it. Then swallow. The more you train yourself to think about what you taste, the better you’ll become at properly seasoning food, knowing when a dish is properly seasoned, and developing a palate differentiates all the ingredients simply by tasting your food and thinking about what you’re tasting. Too many people just eat- they don’t take the time to taste and think about what they’re tasting.
I wanted to make sure that I anticipate any questions that may arise as you’re making this recipe, so I added more information than you probably need in an effort to be helpful. This recipe happens to be one where I have a lot to tell you, so the steps are wordy.
Don’t panic. The recipe is VERY EASY. I’m just sharing with you everything that I would if we were in your kitchen making this together. Hopefully I’ve covered all the bases and your sauce will turn out better than mine did the first time I attempted to make it from scratch on my own.
I generally use high quality imported canned tomato products from our local Italian Grocer. Reason being is most organic canned tomato products add sugar, salts, oils, and other additives that the tomatoes do not need. I want to be the one adding ingredients to the sauce, not compensating for my tomatoes. Although some of the varieties of canned tomato products from one brand I use (Dei Fratelli) does contain calcium chloride, I’m not too concerned about this ingredient. Maybe one day I will be, but considering the other garbage ingredients that go into canned tomato products I could be choosing much worse. I hope to start canning my own tomatoes by the summer of 2014.
- Two-28 ounce cans of diced tomatoes
- Two-28 ounce cans of tomato sauce
- 1 6-ounce can of organic tomato paste
- 1 large carrot, peeled, quartered lengthwise and cut into ½ inch pieces
- 1 rib of celery halved lengthwise and cut into ½ inch pieces
- 1 small yellow onion, diced into ½ inch pieces
- Approx. 56 ounces of cold water (just fill one of those empty tomato sauce cans two times)
- 1-2 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 3-4 medium-large garlic cloves finely minced (depends on how much garlic you like)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and sugar (if necessary)
- 2-3 Tablespoons fresh basil- cut chiffonade. (That’s chef-speak for roll the leaves into a cigar shape and slice very thin ribbons of basil)
- 2-4 Tablespoons fresh oregano- roughly chopped (start with 2, you can always add more if you want)
- 2-4 Tablespoons fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley- finely chopped (start with 2, you can always add more if you want)
- 1-2 tsp. dried basil and oregano, and marjoram. Start with 1 tsp., let sauce cook a bit, taste and add more if desired. Sometimes I add up to 3 tsp of oregano and basil
- Sea Salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 1-2 bay leaves. Fresh is best, dried is perfectly fine
- The rind from a hunk of GOOD Parmesan cheese. I typically use a 6x4 inch piece
- Organic cane sugar or baking soda
- Add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil to a large stockpot or Dutch oven that was pre-heated over medium-high heat. Add diced veggies. Sprinkle with approximately 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. black pepper. Cook until veggies start to soften; about 5-7 minutes. If they start to brown, reduce heat to medium-low. Stir frequently.
- Next add the cans of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, water, minced garlic, fresh herbs, dried herbs and bring to a lazy bubble over medium heat. Once your sauce starts to bubble, add the Parmesan cheese rind (or fresh Parmesan) and the can of tomato paste. Stir well to incorporate the cheese and reduce heat to lowest burner setting.
- Simmer the sauce for 3 hours stirring frequently to prevent burning. (I simmer mine total for at least 6-8 hours.)
- After 3 hours, taste sauce again and adjust the seasonings/herbs.
- Simmer the sauce for another hour. Using an immersion blender, whir the sauce until the pieces of tomato, carrots, onions and celery are blended and as smooth as you can get.
- If you don’t have an immersion blender you can use a normal blender, but only blend 2-3 cups at a time, and remove the center of the lid and place a folded kitchen towel over the opening to allow steam to escape, without burning your hand. Hot liquids will cause the cover to blow off and you’ll have a tomato-decorated kitchen and burned hands.
- Blend the sauce until it’s smooth.
- If you used a Parmesan cheese rind, the immersion blender will whir that into very small pieces, and after it's cooked in the sauce for several hours, those little cheesy bits taste heavenly in the finished sauce.
- You may need to add a little more water once you return the blended sauce back to the sauce pot. The water will cook out; so don’t worry if you add too much you can cook it to your desired consistency. I prefer mine a little loose because it thickens up in the fridge.
- Once you've achieved the seasoning level you desire, (this is the point where you would add cooked homemade meatballs) continue to simmer for another 4-6 hours, stirring frequently and taking care to not let any sauce burn on the bottom of the pan.
- Remove the pot from the heat, and let it cool down as much as possible. Cover and refrigerate overnight. If you simply can't wait a day while your sauce does magical things as it chills in the fridge, go ahead and serve it over some pasta.
- Seasoning: Each time you add an element; it is best to taste it for seasoning. Let it simmer/cook for a few minutes, stir well, taste, and then adjust seasonings. You may find you want to add a little more garlic, or another teaspoon of an herb.
- Parmesan Cheese Rinds: I use the rinds to flavor soups and sauces. If you don't happen to have a spare rind sitting around, run to the store and buy a hunk of good Parmesan (please, don't come home with that green canister of grated Parmesan) and toss in 1-2 ounces of Parmesan, either grated or cut into small chunks.
- Acidic Sauce: If your sauce seems very acidic, add a TB of good olive oil or butter and a ¼ to ½ tsp. of baking soda and stir well. You can also add a teaspoon of sugar if you find your tomatoes are very acidic. The baking soda makes it more alkaline and the sugar cuts the acidity by making it a bit sweeter. Baking soda will cause your sauce to bubble for a bit, so make sure you start with a very low amount and taste after each addition.
- The sauce tastes much better after spending at least 12 hours in the chill chest (fridge)--I try to give it a good 24-36 hours in the fridge before using it for spaghetti or lasagna or shells.