September 08, 2006

The Accidental Sauce

by psu

Over the years, I have experimented with making my own tomato sauce. For a long time, this just didn't work. I'd get some bland, runny, tasteless mess that didn't stick to the pasta. Recently, for reasons I don't completely understand, it's been working better.

Then, the other night, completely by accident, perfection.

One thing I have learned is that everything I was taught about cooking pasta was a dirty lie. First, very fresh sauce made from fresh tomatoes and not cooked that long generally works better not on long pasta, but on pasta that comes in small pieces, like penne. Penne has more surfaces to which the sauce can stick, which is pleasing.

In particular, I reserve angel hair as something to be used primarily for sauce from a jar poured over sauted ground beef meatballs. This dish is a staple of my college psyche, and I will never escape it, so I may as well accept that. Pete tells me that I am supposed to say that it is stupid for all other applications. And I can't disagree.

Second, to keep the pasta from sticking to itself, you do not do some bizzarre ceremony at the sink, rinsing with hot or cold water. You return the pasta to the pan and get some sauce on it. If you can't get the sauce on it immediately for whatever reason, sprinkle on salt and pepper for taste and drizzle it with olive oil. Then mix that up until you can sauce it.

The corollary to this is you put sauce on the pasta while it's in the pot, not when it is on your plate.

Finally, the sauce itself. Here is what I did

1. 4 or 5 gloves garlic.
2. Half an onion.
3. 2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves
4. 6 or 7 tomatoes. A mix of roma and not roma.

Cut the tomatoes into large cubes and then run them through the Cuisinart for a few spins. You can also just squish it with your hands, but this makes the skin on my hands peel away from the bone, so I avoid it.

Meanwhile, heat up a pot. Add oil, put in the garlic and onion. Add salt and pepper. Saute until the onion is soft. This is very important. If the onion doesn't get soft, it will be crunchy in the sauce.

Throw the basil on top, mix. Throw the tomatoes on top of that. Mix. Now put in 2 or 3 large pinches of salt to get the acid out of the tomatoes. Pepper to taste. If you want, add wine.

Bring to a boil and then cook it 20-25min on low until the tomatoes reduce down. Thicken with corn starch and water if you want (old trick from my Mom).

When the penne is cooked, drain it and put this sauce on top and mix.

I'm not sure this text will capture whatever accident happened last week to make the sauce a sublime perfection. But, we can always hope for the best.

Posted by psu at September 8, 2006 06:39 PM | Bookmark This

The quick and dirty bachelor's version is this:

Pur 1-2 cups of water in a saucepan, add a teaspoon or so of basil and oregano, and a pinch of rosemary. Put it on the stove on low heat and let it simmer while you're heating up the pasta water. The herbs get stronger in water than in gloopy tomato sauce. Then add a small can of tomato paste (open both ends and push with the bottom lid to slide it all out -- no messy spoon scooping needed). Mush that up so the paste and water become a basically homogenous sauce. Let that simmer while you're cooking your pasta. Fry up some ground beef in a separate pan. Then strain the pasta, plop the beef in the saucepan, and pour the meat sauce over the pasta, and enjoy! Cheap, easy, flavorful. Not exactly Italian goumet, but certainly quick, cheap, and easy.

Posted by Robert at September 10, 2006 07:03 PM

If I make a bolognese sauce, I find that the flavour improves a lot if I make it the previous day and then leave in the saucepan overnight (not refrigerated, but relatively cool). The following night, reheat, add some red wine (the top of the bottle you're about to drink!) and a little bit of sugar, simmer for about 10 mins (enough for the spaghetti) and serve.

Posted by Paul at September 12, 2006 02:19 AM

My pasta sauce always used to feel like it was missing something, then I discovered red wine, add a glass or so to the sauce for the last 20-30 mins and it makes the whole lot a bunch nicer (well it did for me)

Posted by Chris at September 12, 2006 05:10 AM

If you have trouble having your sauce stick to your pasta, the problem might be in the pasta, rather than the sauce. Here is how I understand it:
- Don't rinse your pasta in cold water once they're done, as it removes the layer of starch that helps the sauce stick.
- Even better: Undercook the pasta by 1 or 2 minutes, then add it to the sauce, add some of the starchy water, cook it till it's al dente. This helps the sauce and pasta integrate. There is a fancy Italian term for this technique.
- Get James Peterson's 'Sauces'.

Posted by Jurie at October 7, 2006 05:56 AM

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