Terri’s Sauce

Terri's Sauce

Anyone with even a remote association to Italian ancestry more than likely has a mother with a tomato sauce recipe. And all of them will tell you that their mom’s is the best. Lucky for me (and for you), my mom’s is actually the best. Since the family has been steering away from carbohydrates (lord knows pasta is the last thing any of us need), it’s been literally years since I last had Terri’s sauce. I mean, what does one have with tomato sauce other than pasta….or ravioli…? So when asked what I wanted when I was home for this trip, you can bet I said sauce.

Terri has two secrets. The first: Pastene Kitchen Ready Tomatoes. The flavor is incomparable. Why? I have no idea. Give it a shot and tell me what you think. The second: in lieu of sugar, baking soda. Tomatoes are incredibly acidic and many people add sugar to counteract all that acid. In fact, many of the name brand jarred sauces like Ragu and Prego add so much sugar it’s the same as eating an Oreo cookie – no joke. The jury is still out for me as to whether adding sugar (a small amount) is a good practice, but my family is certainly adamantly against it. Terri adds just a teaspoon of baking soda to her sauce, sometimes two, and it works wonderfully.

For this batch we did a cliche: spaghetti and meatballs (and sausage). If I haven’t had sauce in years, I haven’t had meatballs in longer. Some are in the school of putting their meat into the sauce raw and letting them cook completely in the sauce, which has its merits. Terri and I are in the school of searing them off first and then letting them finish in the sauce. For me, the flavor one gets from browning is always desirable, so I think searing is the way to go. Terri actually bakes her meatballs, which I think is easier than trying to fry them in a pan, particularly when you’re making them in large quantities. And it still gets that brown color! We also seared sausages and some riblets. Topped with pepato Romano (that’s Romano cheese with black pepper), I’m brought back to our kitchen table in Pembroke where I grew up. So simple, and yet nothing quite compares.

What foods take you back?

Spaghetti and Meatballs

One Pot Pantry Raid Pasta

Pantry Raid Pasta

Last night I had one of those nights where I didn’t really want to go out, nor did I want to buy more groceries, nor did I particularly care to be overly healthy. It was a night where the starving artist looks at what he has and figures something out: pantry raid.

As I stared forlornly at my cabinets I came across a ziplock bag full of bow tie pasta that had been sitting in there for roughly two years. I rarely eat pasta anymore, hence why it has been kicking around for so long. Of course I love it, but it’s just too easy. Too easy to cook an entire pound and eat all of it in one sitting. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. I decided it was time – I was simply in the mood. And it turns out there was just enough pasta for one (three) servings. I was put even more in the mood when I realized I had grated Parmesan in my fridge. Destiny.

Here’s how it went. Boil 2 cups of pasta in heavily salted water according to package directions. I just used my two quart saucepan with lid. While the water heats up, use a strainer to rinse two cups of frozen peas under very hot tap water until they soften. Set the strainer over a bowl to let the peas dry off while the water boils. When the pasta is cooked, strain thoroughly, do not rinse, and return back to the hot pot you just boiled it in. Add two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of olive oil to the hot pasta. Stir to melt the butter. Using a garlic press, mince one or two cloves of garlic directly into the pot along with the peas, 1 cup of grated Parmesan, two teaspoons of Italian seasoning, and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine all ingredients. Add more cheese, butter, and pepper to taste. Devour immediately directly from the pot using the wooden spoon you used to stir the boiling pasta. Starving artist class.

There are of course 10000 variations you could do for this dish. And the best part is that I made it entirely from ingredients that were already in my kitchen. If you’re not in the habit of keeping frozen peas in your freezer, you should start. It is one of my top go-tos when making meals on the fly. And if you happen to have leftover chicken or sausage in your fridge that would send this quick humble little dish right over the top. And for you heat-lovers, try some crushed red pepper flakes mmmmm.

Raid your pantry. Tell me what you find.

Birthday Raviolis

Homemade RaviolisThose of you who know me know that April 24th was my 30th birthday (same birthday as Barbra – we’re bffs). If there’s one thing I’ve learned about birthdays, it’s that if you don’t make a big deal about it, no one will. And come on, it’s your DAY – why not make a big deal?

This year my parents came to visit, making the entire week a celebration… and lord did we celebrate. There’s so much I have to report from this week. Some of it you’ve already heard about from me. Like the ridiculous pancakes we had on Tuesday at the Griddle Cafe or the life-changing gnocchi for my birthday dinner at Osteria Mamma. And let’s not forget my favorite chocolate birthday cake. Some of it warrants separate blog entries, like the remarkable fish and chips with mushy peas I had in Santa Barbara or the unexpectedly delicious and refreshing Ahi Tuna Lettuce Wraps I ate in Palm Springs. Oh and there was the OTHER favorite birthday cake I had for the first time on my actual birthday. Dear god….

But today is not about cake or pancakes or fish and chips. Today is about raviolis. HOMEMADE raviolis. My grandmother Emma, god rest her soul, the one famous for her Easter Pie, was also famous for her incomprehensibly thin and delicate raviolis. Both of my parents learned from her and have continued the tradition with the rest of my family. They all gather and make them together, then freeze them and divvy them up amongst themselves. Shockingly, I had never been present for one of these parties and hence never had the opportunity to make them at all. Criminal! So of course when my parents were here I declared that this just needed to be fixed. And, being the only child birthday boy, it did. ::halo appears over my head::

Emma’s recipe is simple:

  • 4 cups of flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cap full of vegetable oil
  • warm water
Making Ravioli Dough
Mom kneads the ravioli dough.

On a clean, floured surface, one forms the flour into a pile with a well in the middle and cracks the eggs right in. After adding the vegetable oil, one scrambles the eggs with the fork and then begins to fold in the flour and mix it all together while another person begins to drizzle in warm water until a dough is formed. After 15 minutes of kneading, the dough sits for 30 minutes. During this time you make the filling, which is simply 1 large container of ricotta cheese, 2 eggs, 2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley, 1/2 cup of grated romano cheese, and a pinch of salt and pepper, all mixed together and refrigerated until ready to use. The rested dough is divided into four portions, then, using a well-floured rolling pin on a well-floured surface, one rolls out the dough until as thin as possible – borderline see-through. Then, one dollops the filling out in an equidistant line on the dough and folds it over. Using a glass, you cut out circles around the now covered dollops of filling and voila – raviolis.

For being such an impromptu session and with neither of my parents having made them in over a year, I say we did pretty damn good. The picture above shows them served with a butter sage sauce (just melted butter and fresh sage). You simply boil the raviolis until tender (about 3-4 minutes when fresh) then cover them in the sauce. Of course homemade red sauce would be equally divine, but the butter sage is simple, quick, and fresh. Nothing better. Emma was notorious for keeping count of the raviolis she made and would take a tally of everyone’s intake, making sure every single one was accounted for. We were not quite so ceremonious, but of course we joked about it. I tell ya, of all the eating and celebrating we did that week, this event was perhaps the most special, and clearly the most delicious. Food and love – what more could a starving artist ask for?

Now as mentioned above, usually the raviolis are made then immediately frozen for later use. Since we were looking to eat them right away, we cooked a batch of them fresh and froze the rest. Some of you might be raising your eyebrows at the thought of freezing fresh pasta. Let me tell you they are still equally delicious when boiled directly from the freezer. In fact, the ones that were in my freezer may already be gone….

Farmers’ Market Dinner

Hello friends, I am blogging in real time today! Hope everyone has enjoyed this beautiful fall weekend. This morning I finally had the opportunity to return to my beloved Hollywood Farmers’ Market. It had been two weeks since my last visit – for shame. Today I could not resist the Domenico’s tent. Not only do they have a plethora of fresh pastas, they also have the only pre-made pesto I would ever consider purchasing, made with roasted Marcona almonds and basil. Mind-blowing. I went for a package of fresh whole wheat bucatini and then made my way to the mushroom tent to purchase a $10 bag of fresh chanterelles. Between these two items I was already at $16, which means I couldn’t really go too much further with the purchases. So, I got stocked up on some fresh herbs – chives and chocolate mint are my two staples, but today I got a third one that I’ve never used, marjoram. It’s almost like a cross between rosemary and sage. Thought it would be perfect for a mushroom sauce to go with this fresh pasta.

Well, let me tell you, I was right. I chopped up the chanterelles with some creminis and sauteed them in butter and olive oil and salt. I also soaked some dried porcinis in boiling water for 10 minutes. I then chopped them up and threw them into the pan. Once soft I added 3 cloves of garlic run through a garlic press and one finely diced shallot. After cooking those for a minute, I added a bit of flour, cooked that for another minute, then added the water I soaked the porcinis in with some beef stock. Once it got thick and bubbly I added 1 cup of defrosted frozen peas,  the fresh marjoram, then let it simmer for a bit. Once my bucatini was cooked I scooped it right out of the pot into the saute pan. I brought it all together with some fresh parmesan and romano. An earthy, comforting meal for a chilly night. Delicious.

Happy Sunday :)

Terri’s Chicken Ziti and Broccoli

Well, friends, I’ve decided to make up for my week absence with a down home recipe directly from my mom’s (Terri!) kitchen. This is a real winner – simple and addicting. You’re in for a treat.

For some reason, despite the heat and my being so busy, I got an insatiable appetite for this dish this past week. I haven’t made it in years. It’s one of those recipes that takes me back to childhood. Being the starving artist I’m always fiddling with recipes to enhance them, so I make it a bit different than my mom did. Namely, I use chicken thighs instead of breast – less money and more flavor. I season my chicken with poultry seasoning to add depth of flavor. Also, mom would saute her broccoli in the pan she cooked the chicken in. I like the idea, but the broccoli would never get quite as cooked as I wanted it to. So I just throw it in with the pasta for the last few minutes of cooking to get it nice and blanched, then toss everything together at the end. Really I’m just streamlining the whole process while retaining all the flavor and simplicity.

Hope you approve, ma!

Happy Friday everybody!

Terri’s Chicken, Ziti, and Broccoli (Recipe PDF)