~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~
"Mr. Greenjeans", my husband Joe, adores gardening as much as I adore cooking. He loves being outdoors working in his meticulously cared for gardens as much as I love being indoors cooking in my meticulously maintained kitchens. He shops in hardware/garden supply stores like I shop in kitchen/restaurant supply stores. I don't question what he spends for a fancy new wheelbarrow and he doesn't question what I spend on a shiny new 24-quart rondeau pan... True love!!!
In the Fall of each year, thanks to Joe, I find myself up to my elbows in several varieties of fresh tomatoes, the Roma (or Italian plum) tomato being one of them. These firm, smooth-skinned, egg- or pear-shaped tomatoes are quite "meaty" (as opposed to the plump, round, "eating on a sandwich"-type tomatoes) and they don't contain a lot of seeds, which make them the perfect choice to make tomato-based sauces with.
I use the Romas every year to make my version of Italian marinara sauce. Classic marinara is a highly-seasoned Italian tomato sauce that contains onions, garlic and oregano. If not used judiciously, oregano can be harsh tasting, but besides that: I just like the licoricey taste of basil a lot better! If you have ever grown fresh basil, you know that when it is at it's peak, you have to use it fast. Like my marriage to Joe, my "Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce" is the perfect union between the Roma tomato and fresh basil!
I found mine in at William-Sonoma about 5-6 years ago, but I've since seen them in Sur La Table. This sturdy, easy-to-clean machine costs around $40-$45 and is worth every cent! Here's how it works:
~ There's a suction cup that holds the press firmly to almost any work surface or table.
~ Fill the upper bin with chunked tomatoes and turn the crank, just as if you were using a food mill or food grinder.
~ Into the square, white plastic tray (which comes with the machine) flows a river of perfectly crushed tomatoes, free of skins and seeds, which exit out the side of machine into any type of container.
~ Men love to use this machine!
Now that the tomatoes are prepped, it's time to make that sauce I've been bragging about! But in the event you've prepped your tomatoes and don't have time to make the sauce immediately, the crushed tomatoes can be frozen for up to a year.
18 cups peeled, seeded and crushed Roma tomatoes
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup Chianti (an Italian red wine), or Port wine
1/2 cup olive oil
1 pound diced yellow or sweet onion
4 ounces diced garlic cloves (you can run the garlic through a press if you want it finer, but I like to find little pieces of garlic in my sauce)
1 tablespoon dried basil leaves
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon each: sugar, salt (I use fine sea salt) and white pepper
2-3 ounces, chiffonade of fresh basil leaves
~ Step 1. Place oil in chef's pan. Prep the onion and garlic, adding them to the pan as you work. Add the dried basil, red pepper flakes, sugar, salt and white pepper.
Why white pepper instead of black pepper? In this case, it is purely my taste preference for this recipe. White pepper is less pungent than black pepper and for lack of better words: it seems to subtly melt into the finished sauce!
~ Step 2. Over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, saute the above mixture until the onions are tender, about 10 minutes. Turn heat off. Add the tomato paste and wine. Stir until ingredients are evenly coated.
~ Step 3. Chiffonade the basil. Do this at the last moment so the basil is bright green when added to pan.
~ Step 4. Add all of the crushed tomatoes and basil chiffonade. The pan will be very full.
~ Step 5. Stir the above mixture until the basil is incorporated into the tomatoes. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a rapid simmer. Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, until the sauce has reduced, by about 1/3, and is a thick consistency, about 1 1/2 hours. The picture on the right clearly illustrates the reduction.
"My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce" is ready to eat (or freeze):
Special Equipment List: tomato press (optional); cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon
Cook's Note: Sauce freezes well. I like to freeze it in 1 1/2-cup size containers. Each container will sauce 12-ounces of angel hair pasta or 2 of my homemade pizzas.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)