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

Heirloom Tomato Soup: Cheap and Guiltless

Heirloom Tomato Soup

As the weather gets cooler I find myself craving warm comfort. I’ve said it before and ill say it again, soup is the starving artist’s secret weapon: low cost, high yield, mega satisfying. Lately I’ve been eating my stress, which is never good. This weekend I decided I needed to make something warm, satisfying, and completely guilt free. I had grilled cheese on the brain (more on this in another post) and so I naturally thought of tomato soup. I tell you I was tempted to buy a box of Trader Joe’s tomato soup. Like, whatever, I just want soup, I don’t care. And then I came to my senses and realized that for a few more dollars I could make a big pot of my own soup that would knock the pants off of TJ.

So here is what I purchased:

  • 1 package of TJ mini heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 24 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 box vegetable stock or broth
  • 1 cup of chopped fresh basil

And here’s what I used from my own pantry:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Kosher salt, crushed red pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Sugar
  • Tomato paste (in a tube in my fridge)
  • 2 tsp dried basil
Heirloom Tomato Soup
Heirloom Tomato Soup

All I did was get my big enamel soup pot over medium high heat with just enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Toss in the heirloom tomatoes and let them heat up while you dice half the red onion (be sure to stir them around occasionally). Once the tomatoes have been heated for 8-10 minutes, add the onion with a good pinch of kosher salt, a few pinches of crushed red pepper, and the dried basil. Once the onions soften, use a garlic press to press in two cloves of fresh garlic right into the pot. Then add a good squeeze (about two tbsp) of tomato paste. Stir and cook for one minute then add the two cans of tomatoes, about 2 cups of the vegetable broth, bay leaves, and about two teaspoons of sugar. Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove the bay leaves, add the fresh basil, and use a stick blender to puree to desired consistency. Feeds 4-6 people easily. Delicious, healthy, and totally homemade.

Serving suggestions/variations:

  • Adding a can of fire roasted tomatoes will add a new dimension of flavor to your soup
  • Using diced carrots along with the onions will contribute to sweetness and add more flavor
  • Try topping your bowl with some sliced avocado. Or, if you’re feeling indulgent, some grated gruyere cheese. Mmmmmm.

Tomato Pie with Ricotta, Pesto, and Bacon

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I’m obsessed with fresh tomatoes. I usually spend at least a third of my budget on tomatoes whenever I visit the farmer’s market. And usually I just get them home and eat them sliced with kosher salt. But recently I’ve been thinking of other applications for fresh tomatoes aside from the usual go-to’s like caprese salad or tomato sauce. And then it hit me – pie! A cheesy pie!!! Mmmm.

I layered ricotta cheese (whipped with egg and pesto) with thick fresh slices of tomatoes and crumbled bacon, all topped with fresh mozzarella cheese to create a sinfully delicious and comforting meal that could easily feed 6 if not 8. Perfect for a chilly fall evening. Serve with fresh hot crusty bread and a salad – it’s divine. And if you’re a vegetarian, you can replace the bacon with some sauteed spinach and garlic… but do you really not want bacon? I don’t think so.

Before I give you the recipe, a brief word about pie crust. I have long been an advocate of Pilsbury refrigerated pie crusts. They are delicious and can usually be found fairly inexpensively, particularly around the holidays. However, I recently have become obsessed with making my own pie crust just because it’s on my list of things I want to get good at making. For this pie I used a recipe I found in a book I have called Pastry Cook by Catherine Atkinson. The results were pretty remarkable, but I would still not hesitate to go the Pilsbury route if you’re not feeling that ambitious. I don’t really want to spend blog space on pie crust, but if you’re looking to take the leap into homemade, I would start with Ina Garten’s Perfect Pie Crust. That bitch can make some pie.

Whatever you do, it’s tomatoes, bacon, and cheese – it’s not going to be bad!!

Tomato Pie (Recipe PDF)

Monday Lunch

Mondays are my favorite day to have lunch. Why? Because Monday is the day after I visit the farmers’ market, which means I have a plethora of fresh produce to choose from. More often than not, my Monday lunch consists of slices tomatoes with kosher salt and (if I have it) some ribbons of fresh basil. I do this partially because tomatoes bought from vendors like this have a very short shelf life. And partially because I just friggin love fresh tomatoes. Sure, there’s lots to be done with them, from panzonella to tomato sauce… but I don’t know, when they’re this good and this fresh, I find it so satisfying just to eat them as they are. No cooking, no fuss, just pure natural goodness. I think next week I will devise something creative to do with them…. a pie, perhaps… but for now, simplicity wins.

Speaking of the farmers’ market, I came home with quite a bounty yesterday. What’s my item of the week? Fava beans. Mmm. Two-pound bag of dried favas for $6. More posts on this in the coming days. Hope everyone is enjoying fall so far!

Farmers’ Market Bounty

Dirt Lobster

So I have become obsessed with the farmer’s market near my apartment in Hollywood, not surprisingly known as the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. I’ve decided that every time I go I will buy something new that I’ve never tried before, bring it home, and cook it. My rule is I bring a $20 bill with me and that is all I get to spend – after all I am the Starving Artist. Last week I took mom and discovered a beautiful thing – the mushroom tent. It is, as you might guess, a tent full of all kinds of mushrooms, most of which I have never seen or heard of before. And what I love about it is that the owner divvies up the mushrooms into little, flat-priced paper bags. I honed in on these little beauties:

You might have guessed from the title that these are known as Lobster Mushrooms, and you can clearly see why. The color is spot on and I have to say that even the texture is reminiscent of lobster. I didn’t want to do anything crazy to them, so I cooked them very simply in olive oil, butter, salt, and pepper. I also added asparagus, chives, and finished it off with a squeeze of fresh lemon. I ate it with a sliced heirloom tomato, also purchased at the farmer’s market. So fresh and delicious.

 

This was so successful I’ve decided that each week I visit the market I will buy something I’ve never eaten before and see what I can come up with. I have a feeling I may be on a mushroom kick for a while. And you know what, I’m ok with that.