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.
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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.

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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.

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

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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!

Spicy White Cheddar Mac & Cheese

We all have our kitchen staples, you know, things that, when you run out, you finally pick yourself up off the floor to go buy at the grocery store. I must always have eggs, milk or cream, butter, sugar, cheese, and flour. Even when there is embarrassingly little to behold, my staples & I can conjure fresh baked bread or biscuits, homemade pasta, or some elaborate cupcakes for a guest.

This recipe for homemade mac & cheese is one of the recipes that I can throw together quickly with whatever-is-left. Sometimes I don’t have bacon. So what! I’ll use Italian sausage. I don’t have a jalapeno? Whatever. I’ll add a little extra sriracha and some potatoes. I’m sure you could make shredded chicken work deliciously (unleash that creativity!) or you don’t really have to include a meat at all! It’s delicious &  easy & everyone really loves it because it’s no doubt horrible for you 🙂

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Spicy White Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Pasta:
1 1/2 c. dry noodles, cooked al dente (use penne, rotini, mini shells, elbows, or whatever else)

Cheese Sauce:
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 1/2 c. milk
1 c. white cheddar, shredded (+ 2 T. for top)
1 T. sriracha sauce
salt & pepper, to taste

Filling:
1/2 onion, minced
1/3 c. corn
1 jalapeno, seeded & minced

Topping:
1/4 c. panko
1 T. butter
2 slices bacon, cooked & chopped
reserved 2 T. white cheddar

To begin, boil salted hot water & cook your noodle of choice to al dente following directions on package. Strain in a colander and set aside until further assembly.

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Meanwhile, we’ll begin the cheese sauce. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour, mixing in with the melted butter to make a smooth paste, cooking for just a minute or two.

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Pour in the milk. Add a dash of salt & pepper. Continue to heat until the milk simmers & starts to thicken, about 3-5 minutes depending on your stove. Once it begins to thicken, remove from heat and add the cup of white cheddar & the sriracha sauce. Stir to combine until all the cheese is melted to form a thick sauce. Add more salt, pepper, or sriracha to taste.

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Moving on to the filling…
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In a small saute pan, heat a little butter or oil. Saute onions until slightly browned, about 3-5 minutes. Add the jalapeno & the corn. Continue to saute for another 2-3 minutes. I like the veggies to have a little bit of crunch left to add a bit more texture to mac & cheese.

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Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Separate the noodles into two oven safe bowls or ramekins. Split the veggie mixture and cheese sauce evenly between the two bowls. Fold to combine. Add one piece of chopped bacon to each bowl.

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In one more pan (I know, right? I’m sorry you have so many dishes to do!) Melt one tablespoon of butter. Toast the panko until slightly browned.

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Evenly distribute on top of the bowls & add the reserve cheese. Place in oven for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts on top and forms a toasty crust.

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Yum! Mix together with a fork and enjoy all the sweet and spicy flavors + all the different textures of this awesome mac & cheese.

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Basic Pasta Dough

The best valentine’s day gift I ever received was a bright red Imperia pasta roller. It’s amazing the epiphany you experience when you’ve spent your whole life eating dried & packaged pasta noodles only to discover it’s fluffier, hand rolled counterpart. I will admit that the first time I rolled out the pasta, I was a bit intimidated by how much more work it was in comparison with the drop-handfuls-of-noodles-in-a-boiling-pot method. In time, it became easier and now I think of homemade pasta as a benevolent side dish instead of a leering task.

This recipe relies on Semolina Flour. I use Bob’s Red Mill which can be some trouble to locate. I’ve always found it at Whole Foods & sometimes in the natural food section of the renovated Krogers. The combination of all-purpose flour & semolina is, I feel, the most important part of this recipe. The all purpose flour evens out the coarser semolina, making the dough softer and smoother while the semolina gives the all-purpose a little grit and absorbs the liquid of the dough eliminating the characteristic stickiness from traditional flour doughs. It’s truly a beautiful match.

Basic Pasta Dough

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Dough:
3/4 c. all purpose flour
3/4 c. semolina flour
1 t. salt
2 eggs
2 T. olive oil

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In a bowl, combine the flours and salt. create a well in the center. In a smaller bowl, combine the eggs & olive oil. (It is probably best to scramble the eggs before including them in the dough, but apparently on the photo taking day, I simply just didn’t think to worry about that). Pour the wet ingredients into the center well.

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Starting in the center, (you could scramble the eggs now) gradually work the surrounding flour into the liquid center. Continue until the wet ingredients are incorporated. Turn the dough out on a clean working surface and knead for 3-5 minutes, or until the dough becomes slightly elastic-y.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap for about an hour to allow the liquids to absorb in the flours.

Follow instructions included with your pasta roller to create delicious homemade fettuccine, spaghetti, ravioli, and lasagna.