Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Cooking is Cheaper than Therapy: Marcella's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

Everybody's mother makes the best spaghetti sauce. Seriously, the majority of mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and even grandfathers make the best. It's the best because it's what we grew up with. It's what evokes memories, and who can argue with that? 

A few recipes ago, I was somewhat maligned by a "dissatisfied" reader because the recipes I share are not mine. I didn't realize there was the "recipe police" who said one had to create their own recipes before they shared them. In the recipes I have shared, I have made sure to follow their lineage to the best of my ability, along with providing links and giving credit where credit is due. If I discover a new recipe and it has great results, of course I am going to share it. Now, back to spaghetti sauce. 

One of the first things in grade school I learned to make was basic spaghetti meat sauce. We used the old iron skillet and into it sauteed up chopped onions (usually from our neighbor who grew onions), browned up hamburger; dumped canned tomato sauce in the pan, and opened the spice cupboard and started tossing in what was typical, from garlic powder (when fresh wasn't on-hand) to Italian-influenced dried herbs. Through the years I have continued making sauce without a recipe, just tossing things in the pot from very fine shredded carrots to make it a bit sweeter, sometimes a bit of finely chopped celery to give it a brighter taste, using a mixture of hamburger and Italian sausage, and of course a few generous pours of red wine. I was also told by many local Italian families that the one secret ingredient from their grandmothers was to add a pinch or two of sugar at the end to smooth out some of the acidity from the tomatoes. 

Preparing sauce from scratch was good, but I wanted an actual recipe - a proven recipe. So with trial, error, and finally success; Chef Tyler Florence's Ultimate Spaghetti and Meatballs spoke to me. The meatball recipe alone was a confirmation to me that I have been making meatballs all along the "Tyler" way.  I didn't have to change the recipe in the "file cabinet of my mind." This recipe is one that you really want to set aside some time to prepare. However, when you want a quick and easy spaghetti sauce, let me introduce you to Marcella... 

Marcella Hazan (Polini) was an Italian-born food writer whose books were published in English. She would eventually be hailed by chefs and other food writers. Marcella married Victor Hazan, also Italian-born who gained fame as a wine writer. However, Marcella had never cooked before she was married, so she began cooking by sourcing cookbooks from Italy, but also used her memories on the flavors she tasted as a child; and started to reproduce them. Marcella was very much the Italian version of Julia Child, and ahead of her time as she taught cooking classes and wrote a total of seven cookbooks. Marcella died in 2013, but left the world her famous "Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter," from her cookbook, "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking," published in 1992. 





The ingredients are simple: 

2 cups (one 28 ounce can) of imported San Marzano whole tomatoes. If you cannot get to your favorite Italian deli, regular canned whole tomatoes will work. 
5 tbsp of butter (No, don't even think about fake or margarine)
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
A pinch of kosher salt, and later you can add more to taste. 

Place all of the ingredients in a sauce pan. Note, I used one of my old and rather beloved LeCreuset pans since it is heavy. Now don't comment on how it looks all scuffed and stained. It is "seasoned" with love. Cook the ingredients uncovered at a very low temp, but let it simmer for at least 45 minutes to an hour; or until the butter fat floats. Stir from time to time, mashing the tomatoes with the spoon, or even later to finish with a potato masher. Taste and correct for salt. Remove the onion before adding your favorite cooked pasta, but whatever you do - - do not toss the onion. Save it and nibble on it later, or slice it and add to other vegetables, or use it in a sandwich. The onion turns really tender and sweet. I like the "rustic" texture of the finished sauce as is, but if you prefer a smoother sauce, you can use a food mill to puree it. 





It will make your house smell wonderful. This is a simple basic recipe that you can tweak and make it your own. Eat! 


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