I have some friends who, since the advent in recent years of competitive cooking shows, have flattered me by saying that I should try out for one of those shows. The truth is, I am really just someone who likes to eat, and experiment at home. I have no clue as to certain types of cooking technique. There are areas I just haven't ventured into yet (see the following), and areas I never intend to venture into (why would I try and make great Chicago-style pizza at home when Lou Malnati's makes the perfect pie?) I would be sure to make a total ass of myself on national television. Want a for instance? Here is my shame: until last summer, I never ever made marinara sauce from scratch - meaning, from real, whole, fresh tomatoes.
But you can't say that about me now!
I have friends, blog-reading friends, and adamant strangers tell me that (especially as an Italian) I should be loaded into a cannon and shot straight into hell for not making my sauce from scratch every week. Maybe they're right. But how do you sustain this 100% of the time? Humbly and truly, I just do not get it. The sauce I was taught to make comes from canned tomatoes. That's not really "from scratch." (Maybe that's what some of these people mean, as opposed to jar sauce. Well, if that's what they mean, then THEY'RE not making sauce from scratch, either.) Anyway, that's all I've ever done: either dad's sauce or marinara from canned tomatoes, or a good jar sauce when in a hurry, sick, or hung-over. (I know, I know. But don't throw your tomatoes. Save them for sauce!)
Here's what happened. Ma came to visit, and brought (sorry Ma) a SHIT-ton of beautiful, fresh tomatoes and a lorry-load of okra. What I usually do with tomatoes from her garden is grab a salt shaker, slice, and eat. But this was more than we could have gotten through before the fully ripe beauties went bad. We ate our fill (she, Chris and I) at every meal, and I still had a ton left when she left. So I called my brother and said, "How the hell do I do this?" He said to wash up the tomatoes (natch) and to dip them for a minute or two in boiling water. Then you could peel off the skin, and seed them. These garden tomatoes were so ripe, I just had to run them under hot tap water. I peeled off the skin, split them open in my hands, and scooped out the seeds with my fingers. I set them all aside in a bowl.
I heated a deep skillet with some olive oil, then heated some garlic in it. I finely diced as much onion as I wanted in it, then heated that. I added some "baby bellos," (small portobello mushrooms), and sweated those. Then I added the tomatoes, as much fresh oregano and basil as I thought proper, and some red wine. I kept letting it cook down, adding salt, pepper and about a bit of sugar as I went (it cuts the acid). I just kept tasting it, and soon it was definitely sauce. Whoopee! The bellos are optional, and I like to add a bit of red pepper flakes, but if you don't care for a spicier sauce, you could leave that out, too. You could add green pepper but... guh. Not for this kid.
I had plenty of sauce left over for pizza and pasta throughout the week, so perhaps if I ever get a deep freeze and the garden going next year, I can make enough over a summer to ALWAYS make my sauce from scratch (or at least defrost it that way).