Pasta, Grandma’s Way: An Exquisite but Simple Italian Tomato Sauce

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Ciao amici! I know there are as many different versions of tomato sauce as there are households in Italy, so here’s mine. It was handed down from my grandmother, who was raised on a farm south of Rome.  Meatballs, of course, constitute another blog post.


Psst. If you’re not a Latin Lover, you can certainly pretend when you serve her this delight.


Ingredients for Tomato Sauce:

2 medium onions

2 12oz. cans of crushed tomatoes

1 head of garlic

½ cup of extra virgin olive oil

2 cups of soup stock (chicken, beef, or vegetable)

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

¼ cup of red wine (not a cooking wine – choose something you would drink)

1 tablespoon of butter

1 tablespoon of flour

salt and pepper to taste

1 pound of dried pasta (I’m prefer Barilla Pasta, but use whatever you prefer)

Step 1. Peel the garlic and dice the onions. Pour the olive oil into a pot over medium heat. Then put the garlic in right away. The oil doesn’t have to be hot yet, because you don’t want to cook garlic over high heat. When the garlic is golden -not brown – remove it and set it aside.

Step 2. Put the onions in the pot and cook for 5 minutes, or until they are soft and translucent. Then put in the tomato paste and wine. Once the tomato paste has spread throughout the mixture, it’s time to deal with the garlic again. Squeeze the cooked and softened garlic through a garlic press, and add the crushed tomatoes and stock.

Step 3. Turn the heat two notches below medium.  Cover the pot, leaving the cover slightly askew. Let the sauce bubble and simmer for about twenty minutes, stirring every five minutes.

Step 4. In a small skillet or frying pan, melt the butter and add the flour. Let it cook until it has an almond or beige color. Now you have a roux.  Remove it from the heat.

Step 5. Put 5 ladles of sauce into a blender and blend until smooth. Empty the blender into a second large pot.  Repeat until all of the sauce has been transferred.

Step 6. Now that your original pot is empty, pour the roux into the pot, along with three ladles of the now-smooth sauce. Beat the mixture with a wire whisk, hand-held mixer or immersion blender.

Step 7. Once the roux has been completely blended into the sauce, put all of the sauce back into the original pot. Salt and pepper to taste, and let it simmer until the pasta is ready.

Step 8. Make your pasta according to the directions on the box. Remember to salt the water after the pasta has been placed into the boiling water.

Step 9. Enjoy!

Yes, this is a lot of sauce.  However, you can freeze it in Tupperware for up to 60 days.  Think of all the great dinners you can get out of this!  Eggplant and chicken parmigiana, Ziti, lasagna, Manicotti….o.k. I gotta go. I’m hungry.

French Onion Soup

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Men, this is the perfect dish to make on a cold night for that special someone in your life.  Not only will she be impressed by your culinary abilities, but she’ll be pleasantly amazed at how thoughtful you are.

Ingredients:

2 large onions (I prefer Red Bermuda onions)

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 clove of garlic

1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour

6 cups of beef stock (NOT a bouillon or broth.  Try Swanson or Knorr Beef Stock.)

1 bay leaf

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

Slices of French bread

Grated Gruyere or Baby Swiss (Do not use a cheese that is aged or sharp)

1 teaspoon of sherry (optional)

salt and pepper

Step 1. Peel and French cut the onions (for instructions, try here). They should be thin.  If the onions are large, quarter them.

Step 2. Melt the butter in the soup pot, along with the olive oil.  (Cooking Tip: Do not put cold butter into a scalding hot pot. Let the butter come to room temperature and keep the pot on medium heat.)

Step 3. Add the onions and toss in the hot butter and oil. When the onions turn translucent, spread them to the outer part of the soup pot leaving the center clear. Place the pot on a small back burner on the lowest setting. Cover and forget it for 45 minutes. This process is called “sweating,” and after 45 minutes the onions will be soft and limp. (ATTN: Men! Fear not. This is one of those few moments when you want to make something soft and limp,)

Step 4: Put the pot back onto a regular burner at medium heat and add the flour. The flour will absorb the oils and start to darken. It only takes a minute or two for the flour to cook.

Step 5: Add the beef stock, thyme, bay leaf, and sherry (optional) and bring to a boil for ten minutes. This is a good time to lightly toast the French bread.

Step 6: Add salt and pepper to taste.

Step 7: Find that bay leaf and discard it.

Step 8: Fill two soup crocks with the onion soup. Cut a slice of French bread to size, place on top and cover with cheese. Place the crocks under the broiler. Let it melt, or make the cheese a little brown on top.

Step 9: After dinner, cuddle up on the couch with a romantic movie. (Tip: Try “Love Actually”)

Step 10: Prepare a candlelight bubble bath.

Step 11: If you need more instructions at this point, seek professional assistance.

Enjoy!

How to Dice or Slice an Onion

Many entrée recipes call for onions, from ordinary Country Stew to Chinese Fried Rice. If you don’t know how to properly handle this versatile little bulb, you’re in trouble.  But the steps below will help you out.

First you’ll have to go to the kitchen. You can do it! You’ve been in there before to grab a beer or to see if there are any potato chips left. Get an onion from the fridge – an onion is the round white thing that looks like a baseball without seams – and get ready to begin.

Dicing

  1. Put the onion on a cutting board.  Your wife or landlord won’t thank you for cutting up the counter top.
  2. Slice the onion in half lengthwise. Cut off the top, but not the bottom fuzzy part. Peel it and your onion should look like the one in the picture.
  3. First cuts:  On the same plane as your original cut make two more cuts from top to bottom, but don’t slice all the way through.  Now your half onion has been divided into thirds, but is still held together.
  4. Second cuts:  Now make cuts perpendicular to the first ones – take a look at the picture. These cuts (along with the next ones) will determine the size of your dice.

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5.  Third cuts:  Turn the onion ninety degrees.  You took off the top before, and now you’ll continue from that point and cut from top
to bottom.  Basically you’ve just cut a grid into the onion.

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6.  The result will be fine diced onion bits, ready for cooking.
7.  This technique can also be used on shallots and garlic.

For a French Cut

  1. Slice the onion in half lengthwise. Cut off the top AND the bottom fuzzy part.
  2. Peel and slice from top to bottom, just like the Third Cuts in the Dicing technique. You should wind up with half-circles (perfect for French Onion Soup).

Food Processors

Never, ever use a food processor to dice an onion!  The cell walls of the onion break down too much, resulting in a mush that tastes terrible when cooked.

Tools

This is going to be a painful and frustrating experience with a dull knife, so you’ll need a sharpener handy. But you don’t need an expensive electronic gizmo; hand sharpeners sell for around ten dollars. That’s right men, there are tools in the kitchen! Therefore, it is a manly domain (I can hear some of you grunting like Tim Allen on Tool Time).

In my next installment we’ll use these techniques to make a French Onion Soup that’s guaranteed to make the woman in your life purr.

Hope this helped your onion skills.  Try it out, and feel free to leave a comment letting me know how it worked for you.  Good luck!