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Column Mon Oct 12 2009

Not-So-Basic Tomato Sauce

I've had a very, very packed full summer. It wasn't full of the leisurely iced adult beverages sipped slowly under stars, or the long, lazy Saturdays at the beach that I had imagined, but it was definitely an adventure. I've spent the last five months working on a cookbook. And it isn't quite finished, but it is close enough to completion that I'll talk a little about it.


Last April I received an email from an editor asking if I would consider working with her company to write a book about cast iron cooking. I was nervous and excited in equal measure. And before I knew it, I had written 150 recipes and was exhausted. The book will be called The Everything® Cast Iron Cookbook,, and will be available for sale in 2010. I'm quite proud of it.

I know that I have Gapers Block and the readers of Gapers Block to thank for this opportunity. I went through the 5+ years of recipes that have appeared on this site to get inspiration and fodder for the book. And the suggestions made in comments, the questions asked by readers I've met in person, and the tirelessly patient skills of Andrew, Robyn, and every other GB editor I've been blessed to work with have made the book a possibility and a better product.

So I've spent the last five months writing, cooking, editing, researching reading, thinking, and dreaming about food and cast iron. And now that the greatest amount of the work is accomplished, I'm craving things that don't need to be made in cast iron.

Right after I sent off my rough draft, we spent a weekend turning a bushel of tomatoes into jarred sauce. And it felt good to do something so simple and to know that our effort would keep us fed for a year.

RomaTomatoes

And it also reminded me that I haven't eaten much pasta this summer, which is very odd for me. I love pasta with no regret. I love a simple plate of noodles and sauce, or a baked chunk of a noodle dish. I missed it.

And since the tomato season is just at the end of its prime, I thought I'd give you a few sauces you can make with either fresh or canned tomatoes that will let you eat the last bit of summer over a plate of tasty spaghetti.

You could use any pasta, but spaghetti is really the best type for these sauces. The shape of the pasta often determines the type of sauce it goes best with, and spaghetti goes best with a fairly thin sauce.

Simple tomato sauce, or ragú, over pasta is a quick weeknight dinner. But you don't have to be relegated to that jar of Ragú you purchased from the corner store. With a can of tomatoes or a handful or Romas, and a few other ingredients, you can still get a quick sauce in the amount of time it takes your pasta to cook. Tomato and Orange Sauce couldn't be simpler, Cheesy Vesuvio sauce is tasty and still easy, and Tomato and Clam Sauce is about as easy as it can be.

If you're going to use fresh tomatoes in these dishes and you want to remove the skins, here is how. Place a pan of water over high heat, cover it and let it come to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Use a small knife to cut an "X" through the skin at the base of the tomatoes. Once the water has come to a roiling boil, add 2-3 tomatoes to it and let them cook for 30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the hot water and place them in the ice water. Once they've cooled, you should be able to peel back the skin from the tomatoes.


Tomato and Orange Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 14 ounce can whole tomatoes or 4-5 Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
juice from 1 orange or 1/2 cup orange juice
salt
pepper

Prepare your spaghetti according to the package directions. While the water boils and the pasta cooks, place a saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil to the pan with the minced garlic clove. Stir it constantly while it cooks for 1 minute. Sprinkle the dried basil over the pan and stir quickly. Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan and stir to combine.

Use the back of your spoon to smash the tomatoes while they cook. Let them come to a boil and cook for five minutes before adding the orange juice. Stir till it is combined and let it cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the sauce is heated through. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired. You can use a stick blender to get a smoother sauce if desired. Serve over cooked spaghetti, toss to combine, and serve while warm.
Makes 2 servings.


Cheesy Vesuvio Sauce
1 small onion, chopped fine
2 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 14 ounce can tomato sauce
salt
pepper
4 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare your spaghetti according to the package directions. Place a pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and butter and let it cook for 5-7 minutes, or until the onion is soft, translucent, and starting to brown. Add the garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute. Add in the sugar and the dried oregano and stir to combine. Stir in the tomato sauce and let it simmer until the pasta is almost ready. It should start to reduce and thicken. Taste, and season with salt and pepper as needed. Just before draining the pasta, stir in the mozzarella and let it melt. Serve over cooked spaghetti, toss to combine, and serve while warm. Sprinkle the Parmesan on top and serve while warm.
Makes 2 servings.


Tomato and Clam Sauce

1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 14 ounce can tomato sauce
1 6 ounce can clams
2 tablespoons dry white wine

Prepare your spaghetti according to the package directions. Place a pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and olive oil and let it cook for 5-7 minutes, or until the onion is soft, translucent, and starting to brown. Add the garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute. Stir in the basil and oregano. Stir in the tomato sauce and the juice from the can of clams, including the juice. Let it simmer, uncovered, for several minutes to let the sauce thicken. 3 minutes before the pasta is ready, stir in the clams and the white wine. Let it cook until the clams are just warmed through. Serve over cooked spaghetti, toss to combine, and serve while warm.

Italian cooking can be all about the fresh ingredients, but it is also comfort food that can be made with just a few things you have in your cupboard. You don't have to limit yourself to eating pre-made, jarred sauces that are chock-full of preservatives and things you can't pronounce with "flavorings" and "additives" galore. For the cost of a jar of pre-made Ragú, you can get the base ingredients, spend 10 minutes of effort, and get a dinner that is far more satisfying, while still qualifying as a quick evening meal.

 

Dan kugler / October 24, 2009 7:56 PM

That tomato and orange sauce is amazing. I've just recently started cooking and being able to make something that tastes so good is inspirational. Thanks. :)

Cinnamon / October 25, 2009 3:38 PM

Thanks, Dan. I'm glad you made it and liked it. Cooking is all about having the confidence to try things. Not sure why orange and tomatoes go together but I'm glad they do.

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