Thursday, May 26, 2011

Homemade Pasta Sauce

Zack has become the "Sauce Master" in our house. When we have time to make homemade sauce, I willingly take the role of sous chef. If you could taste it, you'd do the same.

We had the luxury of a couple hours of cooking this weekend and I really wanted to use the spinach pasta that we found a few days before, so I talked Zack into working his magic on a sauce. Here's the thing, we never have the same sauce twice. Mostly because we never measure anything, just season, taste, season, taste, and then let it simmer, then taste and season again. Zack also switches up the ingredients depending on how he's feeling that day. This weekend, we had a red sauce with white wine and mushrooms. I licked the plate.

Here's how it went down. The measurements aren't exact - you really have to trust your taste buds. You'll need:

1/2 medium red onion
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4-1/2 cup white wine
1 giant can of whole peeled tomatoes
Red pepper flake
Dried oregano
Fresh basil
4 large (or 6 small) baby portabella mushrooms
Salt & pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan
Pasta of your choice (we chose spinach fettuccini)

Start by chopping half a red onion and 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, depending on their size:

Now add a bit of olive oil and just the onion to a pot over medium-low heat. Toss the onion around in the oil to coat it.

Add some salt and pepper. Let the onions cook down and soften, then add the garlic. Continue cooking - your nose will tell you when it's ready, but the onions will turn slightly opaque. Now, add some white wine (You can add red if you prefer). We used somewhere between a quarter and half cup of Chardonnay because it's what we had on hand. Basically, you want enough wine to almost submerge the onions.

Now, bring the wine/onion/garlic mixture up to a boil and stir occasionally. Boil until wine is reduced and the onions have absorbed most of the wine. 

Next, drop the pan back to low heat and add the tomatoes. This time we used "no salt added" whole plum tomatoes, to which we added salt, pepper, a dash of red pepper flake, and dried oregano.

Now for Zack's favorite part - mash the tomatoes with a potato masher until they look like a chunky salsa. Then add a sprig of basil. Add the whole thing, you're going to puree it up later. Once you get everything mashed up, bring the heat back up to get a low boil going for about 8-10 minutes. Pay attention to your sauce and stir it a LOT so that you don't burn it. If it seems like you've got too much heat going on, back the heat down to medium before the 10 minutes is up. You want it bubbling softly, not splattering all over your kitchen.

Now, turn the heat way down and let your sauce simmer for at least an hour. You can go a bit longer if you want, just remember to stir occasionally.

For the mushrooms, I used 4 large baby bellas. Clean them up using a damp cloth. I personally just use a damp paper towel. Don't scrub them, just wipe gently, then slice 'em up.

When you are about fifteen minutes from serving, start your pasta water (throw a lid on it to bring it to a boil quicker), saute your mushrooms in some olive oil and puree your sauce. If you're doing this operation alone,saute the mushrooms first and set them aside, then puree the sauce. We transfer our sauce to a separate bowl because our kitchen is tiny and there isn't room for this operation at the stove while mushrooms are being sauted simultaneously.

Add the sauce back to the pot on the stove, and add the mushrooms. We reserve about 1/4 for topping the pasta at the end, but you can definitely throw them all in now if you want. Continue to let the sauce simmer until your pasta is ready. Strain the pasta, but remember to reserve some of the water, we always use a little to loosen the sauce up. In fact, Zack adds a one or two tablespoons of pasta water directly to the sauce at this point.

Important Note on thinning your sauce: A little pasta water goes a long way! Start small and build until you get the consistency you desire.

Zack likes to do individual portions, so he prepares each serving in a different pan with some sauce, one portion of pasta, a little bit of butter (no more than a tablespoon), freshly grated parmesan and possibly some more pasta water if needed. If you want to skip that step, just add your pasta to the pot with the sauce. Add pasta water as necessary. 

Plate it up, add your mushroom garnish and top with freshly grated Parmesan.


1 comment:

  1. Recently used some Trader Joe's San Marzano Italian canned tomatoes and they were better than any other kind we had used in the past. If you're near a town with a Trader Joe's make sure you stop in. They also have some flavored pastas that are really good.