Classic Marinara Sauce

Marinara Saucen

I’ve been making homemade sauce for twenty years now and I generally stick to what I know and don’t really follow any recipes however, when I came across this recipe for Classic Marinara Sauce in one of my new cookbooks I had to give it a try. The original recipe is from The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook  by America’s Test Kitchen which is an excellent cookbook if you’re looking for heart healthy cooking ideas plus some new and interesting ways to prepare your vegetables, pastas and meats.

What I really liked about this recipe was the way they had you cook down the tomatoes until they were nicely browned and concentrated. This step, combined with the red wine, allowed the sauce to develop a really nice, rich, complex flavor that was simply perfect! I used a Merlot in this recipe but feel free to use whatever red wine that you have on hand, any wine is better than no wine! Because the sauce is somewhat thick and chunky adding a little of the pasta water to the finished meal really helped to give it the perfect consistency. It made just the right amount of sauce for one and half pounds of pasta however, if you like a more heavily sauced pasta, I’d stick with a pound. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 (28 oz) cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
  • 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp minced fresh oregano or 1/2 tsp dried
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 3 tbs chopped fresh basil
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • pinch of granulated sugar

Instructions

Drain the tomatoes in a fine-mesh strainer that is set over a large bowl. Using hands, open the tomatoes and remove the fibrous core, discard. Let the tomatoes drain for about 5 minutes. Reserve 3/4 cup of the tomatoes separately. Reserve 2 1/2 cups of the drained tomato juice, discard the rest.

Heat 2 tbs of olive oil in a 12″ skillet over medium, heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and oregano and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the remaining drained tomatoes (keep the 3/4 cup of tomatoes set aside) and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring often, until the liquid has been evaporated and the tomatoes begin to brown and stick to the pan, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Stir in the red wine and cook until thick and syrupy, about 1 minute. Stir in the reserved tomato juice, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the reserved uncooked tomatoes to the sauce and transfer to a food processor (or use a handheld immersion blender) and pulse 8-9 times or until slightly chunky. Return the sauce to the skillet and add in the basil, remaining 1 tbs of olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar to taste.

When tossing with the pasta, add some of the pasta cooking water as needed to adjust the consistency of the sauce.

Quick and Easy Tomato Sauce

Quick Saucen

Growing up in an Italian household homemade tomato sauce was a given, I didn’t even know what “jar sauce” was as a kid. But really good tomato sauce takes time and sometimes time is the last thing I have. So when I need sauce in a pinch, whether it be for a pasta meal or to just toss on some meatball heroes, I make this Quick and Easy Tomato Sauce. It’s done in only minutes and it tastes great, far better and fresher than any jar sauce in my opinion.

You can use a can of regular crushed tomatoes in this recipe but I find that using really good quality tomatoes is actually better since the sauce doesn’t have hours to simmer and develop flavor. I like to use a can of whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes, I just give them a quick squeeze to crush them up before adding to the pan. They are excellent and with the addition of just a few choice ingredients, you have a delicious tasting and quick sauce perfect for whatever Italian dish you’re serving up. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup grated onion
  • 2 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp parsley
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • Handful of fresh chopped basil
  • 1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

Melt butter over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add parsley, salt and pepper and cook another 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute.

Add to the pan the crushed tomatoes and sugar. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer . Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the sauce from the heat and add in the fresh basil and olive oil. Adjust seasonings and serve.

**Tip – This can be used as the base for a slow cooking “Sunday Sauce” as well. Start by browning one pound of sweet or hot sausage (removed from the casings) in a little oil. Remove the sausage from the pan leaving the fat behind. Skip the butter and sauté the onions in the sausage fat. Add in the spices and garlic and after sautéing for a minute, add in 1/2 – 1 cup of good red wine to deglaze the pan. Cook until most of the alcohol is burned off. Continue to follow the steps above allowing the sauce to simmer for 2-3 hours, or longer, for best flavor.**

Easy Peasy Ala Vodka Sauce

ala vodka sauce_n

If you’re looking for a quick, easy and delicious pasta meal this will be your next favorite recipe! Whenever I am short on time, not in the mood to make “Sunday Sauce” but want pasta and need something my kids will love, this is my “go-to” dish. I love to add prosciutto to the sauce however, it’s just as yummy if you don’t have any on hand. The key to making this scrumptious is fresh basil, lots of grated cheese, and an extra splash of heavy cream.

I feel this sauce is best over a ridged, sturdy pasta because it allows the sauce to stick really well and get in all of the yummy nooks and crannies of the pasta. I usually do a  nice penne rigate but you can also use rigatoni if you prefer. I’ve also made it will gemelli pasta which was delish as well.

One quick cooking tip, you can make this sauce ahead of time however, I recommend NOT adding the cream until you’re about to serve the pasta. Ala vodka sauce has a tendency to separate if the cream is cooked too long in the sauce so a few minutes before your pasta is done, add the heavy cream and warm the sauce through. This recipe is enough sauce for exactly one pound of pasta. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 3-4 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 6 oz diced prosciutto, optional
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • One can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 – 1 cup grated cheese
  • handful of fresh chopped basil
  • Parsley, for garnish
  • 1 lb pasta

Instructions

Bring a pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Add the onion (and prosciutto if using) and cook until softened, about 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a minute or two more.

Slowly add in the vodka, allowing the alcohol to burn off for a minute or two. Add in the crushed tomatoes, red pepper flakes, Kosher salt, black pepper and cheese. Stir, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and simmer, about 10-12 minutes.

Boil the pasta while the sauce is simmering.

Right before serving, add in the heavy cream and fresh basil and stir gently until well combined. Allow the sauce to heat through, about 2-3 minutes. Toss with the hot pasta and serve. Garnish with parsley.

ala vodka gemelli

Italian Tomato Sauce

Sauce

I am often asked for my recipe for tomato sauce which I always struggle with because when it comes to sauce, I don’t follow a recipe. When I first started making sauce over 20 years ago I asked my mom for her “recipe” and she gave me a bunch of vague measurements and ingredients to throw together and then…..”VOILA!!”………sauce! So I’ll now pass along my list of vague measurements and ingredients to throw together and hopefully you’ll end up with a delicious pot of sauce as well.

Really good, flavorful sauce develops in time so if you can, let it cook for hours on the stovetop. The longer, the better! If you can’t be home all day to babysit it, use your Crock-Pot! I’ll usually brown the sauce and onions first and then add everything to the Crock-Pot to cook. You can put the meat and onions in raw however, I don’t think you get the same depth of flavor as when you brown them first so I recommend not skipping this step. Taste your sauce periodically and adjust your seasonings as it cooks because there is nothing worse than bland tomato sauce. My favorite way to taste the sauce, and I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, is to have a piece of “gravy bread“. Dip a slice of folded white bread in the sauce and enjoy! So yummy!!!…………….and very hard to eat just one slice!!

Try adding some red wine, make it with meat or without, let your meatballs cook in the sauce or don’t. There really is no one way to make sauce and depending on my mood and what’s in the house, my sauce will turn out a little different each time. My favorite way to make it though is with sausage meat and red wine. Cooking the onions and garlic in the sausage fat really adds so much flavor to the finished product as does a good, rich red wine. It’s also a great way to deglaze your pan! Fresh basil is the perfect finishing touch!

Use this “recipe” as a guide and don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients or adjust the amounts to suit your own tastes. Part of being a good cook is learning to become intuitive in the kitchen, following a recipe is great (and I do it often) but learning to cook using what you know about flavors and ingredients is a skill worth developing. Sauce is the perfect thing to practice on because most sins are easily correctable. So tap into your inner Italian and get cooking!!

Ingredients

  • 1 – 1.5 lbs sweet or hot Italian sausage with fennel, casings removed OR 1 – 1.5 lbs ground beef
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 4-6 garlic gloves, smashed then minced
  • Red wine, about 1/4 – 1/3 of the bottle
  • 2 (28 oz) cans of crushed tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 tbs dried parsley
  • drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
  • handful of fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons

Instructions

In a large pot set over medium heat cook the sausage/ground beef until nicely browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the onions to the fat and cook until slightly softened and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Pour in the wine and scrape up any browned meat bits and onion stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Add the meat back into the pot along with the crushed tomatoes, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and parsley. Drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil over the top. Cover and allow the sauce to simmer for at least 2 hours, longer if possible.

In the last few minutes before serving, toss in a nice handful of fresh basil and stir.

**Tip – I like to freeze cleaned fresh basil leaves in a Ziploc bag so that I always have fresh basil on hand. When you need some for a recipe just grab a frozen handful and crumble it right into your dish**

Meatloaf – Pioneer Woman Style

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For years and years I’ve used my same “go-to” meatloaf recipe that I love. It’s beefy, has a nice onion flavor and everyone in my house loves it. But yesterday, I decided to go out on a limb and try something completely different after I came across this meatloaf recipe from The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond. I love her cookbooks, she has so many meals and desserts that are interesting and delicious. This particular meatloaf recipe is from, “The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes From An Accidental Country Girl“, her first cookbook. You can get this cookbook on Amazon, just click below!

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl

At first I was a little hesitant mainly because I detest ketchup and this recipe called for a sauce made from ketchup. I was actually pleasantly surprised though, after the meatloaf was cooked the sauce took on a really nice sticky, spicy BBQ quality which added great flavor to the meatloaf. The one thing I’d do differently the next time I make this meal would be to run the bacon slices down the length of the meatloaf as opposed to running them across and tucking them under. The top of the bacon was delicious and nicely cooked but the ends of the bacon that were tucked under the meatloaf remained barely cooked and “blubbery” which I found to be inedible. There is nothing worse than inedible bacon!!!

Overall, this was a really good meatloaf and was well received by my family. It has more of a meatball flavor rather than the beefy onion flavor I’m use to from a meatloaf due in part to the parsley and Parmesan cheese. Also, because soaked bread was used instead of breadcrumbs the meatloaf had a really nice texture and structurally, it was perfect! It sliced beautifully and stayed together even after only letting it rest for about 15 minutes. Can’t wait to eat the leftovers today!

Ingredients

For the meatloaf

  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 slices of bread
  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp seasoned salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 8-12 thin bacon slices

For the tomato sauce

  • 1 1/2 cups ketchup
  • 6 tbs brown sugar
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • Dash or two of hot sauce

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the milk over the bread until the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the beef, milk soaked bread, Parmesan cheese, salt, seasoned salt, black pepper, and parsley. Pour in the beaten eggs and with clean hands, mix until combined.

Form the meat mixture into a loaf shape and place on top of a broiler pan which will allow the fat from the meat and bacon to drain away. Line the bottom of the broiler pan with aluminum foil for easier clean up.

Lay the bacon slices across the top of the meatloaf and tuck the ends underneath.

Next, make the tomato sauce. Combine the ketchup, brown sugar, dry mustard and hot sauce. Mix well.

Pour 1/3 of the tomato sauce over the top of the meatloaf and spread. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove meatloaf from the oven, pour another 1/3 of the tomato sauce over the top and spread. Place back in oven and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for about 15 minutes. Serve the remainder of the tomato sauce on the side.

**NOTE** – Oven temps vary so adjust your cooking time accordingly. I cooked this meatloaf for an additional 20 minutes and it came out beautifully. Generally speaking, I think an hour is a little too short on time for a meatloaf of this size. 

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