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This really is my Italian grandmother’s recipe. She was not the world’s most adventurous cook but she made a mean pasta. She made all her own pasta by hand and would rather not eat than use bottled anything. She was all about using fresh, local ingredients way before it became fashionable and she had a gorgeous potager or vegetable and herb garden that she lovingly tended to. Her cooking style was to use the simplest, freshest ingredients, add a bit of love, and they would speak for themselves. That is why you will see that there are no onions, garlic, leeks or celery in her marinara sauce – it contains tomatoes, tomatoes, more tomatoes, oh and a few carrots. Now, why carrots you may ask and that is a very good question. You see, tomatoes often become slightly bitter once cooked. That is why most recipes and chefs add some sugar to tomato sauces and that is quite fine but why add sugar if you can achieve the same result by using a natural vegetable and then you can even eat a yummy cooked carrot to boot. So, mémé, (that is what I used to call her), always threw in a few carrots. I have taken the liberty of adding a beef stock cube as I find it imparts a certain richness to the flavour but that is entirely optional.

Most people associate tomatoes with Italian food and Italy, but in fact, they originate in South America and were only introduced to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century. The classic marinara sauce is the basis for most other tomato based sauces such as bolognaise, arrabbiata, amatriciana, vodka etc. It is a simple and fresh and very easy to make. The important thing to remember is that your tomato sauce will only be a good as the tomatoes you put in it. And although fresh is obviously best, most of us do not really have the time or inclination to boil, peel, seed and cut them. I normally use canned tomatoes. Do buy the best you can find, and buy both crushed and whole tomatoes. I keep some on hand at all times, a great pantry staple.
Today we are going to make a bolognaise sauce but I begin with a marinara sauce, the most versatile first. It is an incredibly easy recipe but does need at least an hour of slow cooking time. I usually double this recipe and freeze it for when I want to make lasagna or another tomato based dish. It freezes for up to 3 months. So let’s begin to make our marinara sauce.

Marinara Sauce

Makes about 8 cups, (allow roughly 1 1/2 to 2 cups per person with pasta)

Ingredients:

A few tablespoons olive oil
2 large cans of crushed tomatoes 790 g  / 28 oz each
2 tablespoons tomato purée concentrated
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2
1 beef stock cube
Freshly ground black pepper
2 dried bay leaves
1 teaspoon origanum
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon thyme

Preparation:

In a large pot, heat the oil on medium heat
Add the tomatoes
Add the carrots, stock cube, pepper and dried herbs
Bring to a boil and immediately lower to a slow simmer
Simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until the sauce thickens, stirring occasionally
Taste and adjust seasoning
Remove the carrots (and eat them)
Enjoy!

Now that we have our basic sauce, we can use it as is – with soft, pillowy gnocchi and some parmesan shavings – yum – or we can play around with it and convert it into bolognaise. This is a very simple bolognaise, quick to make, very tasty and great with spaghetti, polenta or in lasagna.

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Bolognaise

Serves about 4

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
500g / 1 pound ground beef chuck
1 marinara sauce recipe above
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
4 to 6 fresh basil, chopped
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Preparation:

In a large pan or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat
Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes until onion is soft
Add the garlic and sauté another 2 minutes
Increase the heat to high and add the ground beef
Cook until the meat is no longer pink, breaking up any lumps, about 10 minutes
Add the  parsley, basil, salt and pepper
Add the marinara sauce and stir well
Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally
Serve over pasta with the grated cheese
Enjoy! or as they say in Italy – Buon Appetito!

 

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