Basic Tomato Pasta Sauce

When I first started to make tomato sauce, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know that additional vegetables were added to add complexity of flavor. I didn’t know how to season it properly and I certainly had no idea how long to let it simmer. Last summer, I started hanging out with my friend’s brother upon her suggestion. David was always boasting about his Italian heritage and we decided to have Monday night dinners. He taught me about tomato sauces and freshly baked bread and I taught him about pasta doughs and opened his eyes to the ease and deliciousness of rolling it yourself. It was truly a wonderful friendship that really challenged me to expand my baking & cooking repertoire.

This is not his recipe, but one I’ve developed over the years of trial and error. Though, I will say he provided a vital step in the process of developing it.  I like it because it uses a lot of veggies and only as much salt as you want, making it healthy and versatile. If you want more veggies (or texture) in your sauce, you can always saute eggplant, peppers, or mushrooms in a separate pan and add them in or just wilt some spinach in it as it keeps warm over med. low heat.
DSC_0879
Basic Tomato Sauce
yields approx 4 cups

needs:

drizzle of olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 small carrot, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 zucchini, chopped (optional)
2- 14 oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/2 t. oregano
1/2 t. parsely
1/2 t. cayenne pepper (optional)
small dash of nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste
6-8 basil leaves
1/2 lemon, juiced (approx.1 T.)

In a sauce pan over medium heat, start with a drizzle of olive oil and the onion and garlic. Saute until slightly browned and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the carrot, celery and zucchini. Continue to cook until soft and slightly browned.

DSC_0869
Add the tomatoes & their juice, making sure to crus the tomatoes a little with your hands. Add the spices and heat until simmering. Simmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes. This allows the sauce to thicken and the seasonings to marinate.

DSC_0873
Remove the bay leaf and transfer the sauce to a blender. Add the basil leaves and blend on high speed for 2 minutes.

DSC_0876

DSC_0877
Transfer back to the pan, stirring in the lemon juice. Either keep warm over low-medium low heat until ready to use or allow your sauce to cool in a glass container for another day!

Advertisements

Eggplant Parmesan Stack with Spinach Saute

I used to be obsessed with the PBS program Art:21. I used to watch it, take notes, and make personal powerpoint slides out of the information. I was completely absorbed in how the artists talked about their work and loved being able to see a variety of styles and mediums. (I was so crazy about it that it led me to achieve a second major in art history). On one program, the artist William Kentridge shares his belief that the world is process, not fact. I wrote the quote down then and it stuck with me over the years.

So what does this have to do with anything? I’ve been making eggplant parmesan for years. It is a dish that seems to signify my growth & progress with cooking. It started with way too much garlic, mushrooms, a jar of prego, and barilla whole wheat linguine noodles in my early college days. It evolved to include my first attempts at homemade tomato sauce thickened with corn starch and even featured hand rolled egg noodles. This version is much more visually appealing with a much more complex tomato sauce. It doesn’t even feature noodles! I guess I should add, for fun, this recipe certainly doesn’t represent the fact of eggplant parmesan, but it represents one stage in the process of developing it. hehe.

DSC_0904

Eggplant Parmesan Stack
yields 2-3 servings

sauce:
2 c. tomato sauce, homemade or canned

eggplant + breading:
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/4 in. slices
1 egg, scrambled
2-4 tablespoons milk to thin egg

3/4 c. plain bread crumbs
1/2 t. basil
1/2 t. parsely
1/2 t. oregano
1/2 c. parmesan cheese, grated
salt & pepper, to taste

spinach saute:
1 – 6 oz container spinach leaves
1 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced

garnish:
1/2 c. parmesan
chopped basil for garnish

To begin, ready your eggplant. Heat a saute pan or cast iron skillet with about 1/4 inch canola or vegetable oil over medium heat. In a small saucepan, heat your tomato sauce over medium low heat so it’s ready when your spinach is finished.

In a shallow dish, combine egg & milk (make sure it’s big enough to dip your eggplant in). In another shallow dish or on a plate, combine the bread crumbs, seasoning, and parm cheese.

DSC_0890
Take your prepared eggplant slices and dip in the eggwash, one at a time is easiest. Dredge the pieces, both sides, in the breading and immediately place them in the hot oil. Fry on both sides, until golden brown. Repeat until all the pieces are fried.
**Be sure not to have the oil too hot, or the breading will crisp without cooking the eggplant inside.

DSC_0892

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and add the garlic, sautéing for just a minute. Add your container of spinach, stir until wilted & dark green in color – 3-4 minutes.

DSC_0893
DSC_0894
Time for assembly!

Start with the spinach on the bottom of the plate. Make sure the spinach is patted down so it has a flat surface to build from. Add a piece of eggplant. Top it with a  few spoonfuls of sauce. Add a full pinch of parm and repeat!

DSC_0898 DSC_0899 DSC_0900DSC_0902
Don’t overstack! Try to use the larger pieces towards the bottom and the smaller pieces to the top. Garnish with a little chopped basil.

DSC_0905

Oven Roasted Asparagus

Do you have veggies in the fridge that you don’t know what to do with? Oven roast them.

I am sad to say that I didn’t always know about the joys of oven roasting, but it is a truly miraculous little technique that transforms bland veggies into magical treats. I bought some asparagus last week with high hopes of doing something with them but alas, it didn’t quite work out. They waited patiently and hopefully bundled in two purple rubber-bands, simply begging for a purpose. Today they got their wish.

Oven Roasted Asparagus

1 bunch of asparagus
2-3 T. olive oil
1 clove of garlic, finely minces or crushed
salt & pepper
parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash your precious asparagus and place them on a foil lined baking sheet, evenly spread. Lightly drizzle olive oil over the stalks and shake/grind salt & pepper.

DSC_7681

With a cheese grater, lightly grate parmesan cheese over the asparagus (a small dusting, if you will).
DSC_7683

Place them in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until the ends become crisp and the stalks become soft. They lose much of their rigidity when this happens, so if you pull one out and it is still standing proud and tall, then he probably needs more time in the oven. They will also lose their bright green color and fade to toasted green-brown.

DSC_7692

Let cool briefly and transfer with tongs to a plate. For extra flavor, you could squeeze a little lemon on top, but I prefer the mild parmesan garlic taste.

DSC_7694