Terri’s Sauce

Terri's Sauce

Anyone with even a remote association to Italian ancestry more than likely has a mother with a tomato sauce recipe. And all of them will tell you that their mom’s is the best. Lucky for me (and for you), my mom’s is actually the best. Since the family has been steering away from carbohydrates (lord knows pasta is the last thing any of us need), it’s been literally years since I last had Terri’s sauce. I mean, what does one have with tomato sauce other than pasta….or ravioli…? So when asked what I wanted when I was home for this trip, you can bet I said sauce.

Terri has two secrets. The first: Pastene Kitchen Ready Tomatoes. The flavor is incomparable. Why? I have no idea. Give it a shot and tell me what you think. The second: in lieu of sugar, baking soda. Tomatoes are incredibly acidic and many people add sugar to counteract all that acid. In fact, many of the name brand jarred sauces like Ragu and Prego add so much sugar it’s the same as eating an Oreo cookie – no joke. The jury is still out for me as to whether adding sugar (a small amount) is a good practice, but my family is certainly adamantly against it. Terri adds just a teaspoon of baking soda to her sauce, sometimes two, and it works wonderfully.

For this batch we did a cliche: spaghetti and meatballs (and sausage). If I haven’t had sauce in years, I haven’t had meatballs in longer. Some are in the school of putting their meat into the sauce raw and letting them cook completely in the sauce, which has its merits. Terri and I are in the school of searing them off first and then letting them finish in the sauce. For me, the flavor one gets from browning is always desirable, so I think searing is the way to go. Terri actually bakes her meatballs, which I think is easier than trying to fry them in a pan, particularly when you’re making them in large quantities. And it still gets that brown color! We also seared sausages and some riblets. Topped with pepato Romano (that’s Romano cheese with black pepper), I’m brought back to our kitchen table in Pembroke where I grew up. So simple, and yet nothing quite compares.

What foods take you back?

Spaghetti and Meatballs

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat Sauce

Tonight I was poking through the depths of my fridge and pantry (and by pantry I mean the cabinet above the sink) to decide what to do with the rest of the beef-less ground beef I bought for yesterday’s Sloppy Trader Joe recipe. To my surprise I came across a jar of marinara sauce I had bought for my Christmas party. As you may have guessed, I never do jarred tomato sauce since it is so easy to make your own, however it can be just the thing when you’re in a jam and need something quick. Seeing the jar of red made me think of meat sauce, something I haven’t had in ages… hmmm. As much as the idea pleased me, if I’m going to use a jarred tomato sauce, I sure as hell better find something to dress it up with lest I incur the disdain of my family. I went to the fridge and discovered two zucchini and half an onion, all left over from my Simple Springtime Orzo – perfect. I diced the veggies and sauteed them in olive oil, salt, pepper, about a teaspoon of Italian seasoning, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flake. Once nearly cooked I added the beef-less ground beef and let it brown up a bit. At the very end I added in one minced clove of garlic, then poured over about 3/4 of the jar of  marinara sauce, let it heat through, and prest0 – “meat” sauce.

I was feeling exceptionally good this evening so I ate the sauce just as is with a little grated cheese. The zucchini are substantial enough that they make it a hearty meal without the calories and empty carbs of pasta or rice. Cheap, hearty, satisfying, AND healthy – that is what the starving artist likes. Having said that you could most certainly serve this over elbow macaroni, penne, or even white rice (I promise I won’t tell). My roommate sampled the sauce and was utterly impressed by the flavor and texture of the meatless ground beef – she was shocked to hear it wasn’t real. For even more ideas you should check out my Weeknight Tomato Sauce.

Now I realize some of you are probably reading this saying, “really? you opened a jar of tomato sauce and dumped it over sauteed vegetables. Astonishing”.  But that’s exactly the point: I didn’t just crack open the jar and heat up the sauce. I dug around and found ingredients laying around my kitchen that transformed an ordinary jar sauce into a satisfying, versatile meal.  When times are tight and paychecks are scarce, this is exactly the kind of thinking and resourcefulness that can get you through crunch times without  sacrificing flavor, style, or self respect. You starving artists know what I’m talking about ;-)

Weeknight Tomato Sauce

We’ve all done it. It’s late on a weeknight. You need a hot meal, but you don’t really want to exert any effort… or thought… and what you really need more than anything is comfort. So, you reach for that blue box of elbow macaroni, pull that big jar of processed red off the shelf, put the two together and top it off with a sprinkling of white sawdust labeled as cheese in that plastic green cylinder caking in the back of your fridge, and voila. Your dinner…. or what you call dinner… Well, let me assure you, the starving artist can do better. A lot better.

I’m an Italian, which means I love my mom’s tomato sauce. In fact I’m sure just about every family has a good sauce recipe that takes them back to their kitchen table as a kid. But, the only problem with a classic sauce like my mom’s is that it cooks all day on the stove (or in the slow cooker) and it makes a gigantic amount. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love making a big batch of mom’s sauce with sausage and meatballs… but sometimes I want to get that same comfort but a little quicker, a little more fresh, and just for me. And so was born my weeknight tomato sauce. I combine canned fire roasted tomatoes with the sweet freshness of cherry tomatoes and cook them down with zucchini, onions, mushrooms, garlic, and spices. It comes together quick, with minimum prep, and, as is obligatory for the starving artist, has a plethora of uses and ways to vary. The best part? Fresh, slow-cooked flavor in practically no time at all. No muss, no fuss. And of course you can switch out the veggies for your favorites, use less, add more – whatever you like. Get creative!

Sauce over slaw

Truth be told, I originally created this recipe to stand on its own. A hearty vegetarian meal, almost no calories, and you still get that comfort that only tomatoes can bring. However, I was recently gifted several pounds of high quality gourmet pasta, which I had been keeping out of sight so as to avoid eating it. Pasta (at least for me) is not conducive to maintaining one’s weight, so I completely got out of the habit of purchasing it. But, we all have to indulge… and there is nothing like a good bowl of pasta with tomato sauce covered in grated cheese. Let me tell you, maybe it was because it had been so long, but this sauce with linguine is to die for. My roommate agrees. And just let me say a quick word about that grated cheese. There is no excuse for buying that horrible stuff you find on the shelf next to the pasta. Most grocery stores with grate and package their own cheeses for really reasonable prices – check the refrigerated cheese section or sometimes near the deli. They’re in clear plastic tubs and sold by the pound. I’m a Romano cheese guy, and I can get a container at Trader Joe’s for less than $5, which lasts me forever. Frugal is good, but know where it’s worth it.

AND for those of you who really have to satisfy that tomato sauce craving but don’t want to deal with the calories and temptation of pasta, I have the answer for you: broccoli slaw. Instead of pasta, blanch a bag of broccoli slaw for two minutes in salted boiling water, strain it, toss it with the sauce, and I swear it will fill that void right up with almost no calories. I tried it last night – brilliant. No, it’s not pasta, but it’s a creative (and cheap!) way of eating super healthy. And I promise it will be just as satisfying. That’s how the starving artist rolls.

Weeknight Tomato Sauce (Recipe PDF)

Try it out and let me know how you like it!!! Did you come up with any fun variations?