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Spaghetti sauce

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Spaghetti sauce

Postby Lily » Fri Jan 06, 2012 10:30 pm

Tonight I boiled up some thin whole-wheat spaghetti noodles. For the topping, I usually make a very simple sauce. This time it was a homemade version of clam marinara sauce using just what I had on hand at home. Here's what I used:

1/2 small white onion, finely diced (it's a strong onion so I used less. I want clam sauce, not onion sauce.)
2 heaping tablespoons finely diced fresh green pepper.
No carrot on hand, but I would have added two baby carrots here, finely shredded if I had them. Adds a bit a sweetness to the sauce.
Saute that in olive oil and a generous amount of garlic powder. Fresh garlic is, of course, better but powder is all I had at home.
While that's simmering, I diced up 6 large white mushrooms and added that to the pan. Stir and let simmer until the mushrooms give off their liquid.

Add 1 small can tomato paste, 1 15-oz can of petite diced tomato with liquid, 1/2 cup fresh water. Stir and let simmer. I added oregano, basil, and some salt at this point. If I would have had some anchovy paste I would have added a dollop. This doesn't add a fishy taste--it's adds a richness to the sauce that improves the overall flavor. But alas, I had none on hand tonight.

Open two 6.5-0z cans diced clams. Pour liquid ONLY into sauce. Stir sauce and let simmer down until thickened, on low, roughly about 30 minutes. You only add the clams at the last moment before serving. Just enough to heat them up. They're already cooked and you don't want rubber erasers in your sauce.

I served the pasta and sauce with a chunk of Italian bread and unsalted butter. (Sorry, too lazy to make the garlic bread tonight.)

Love a good spaghetti sauce.
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Re: Spaghetti sauce

Postby Detritus » Sat Jan 07, 2012 12:37 pm

Sounds great, Lily! I always start with a simple marinara and then improvise from there. Typically, though, I toss in a half-cup of red wine, a splash of Thai fish sauce, and a finely diced jalapeño. My spicing usually includes oregano and cumin in addition to the basil.

Have you tried making your own pasta?
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Re: Spaghetti sauce

Postby Marvell » Sat Jan 07, 2012 3:55 pm

In a former life I was prep cook for Trattoria Delia in Burlington, Vermont (in fact, I made the first meatballs they ever served). Italian is still the cuisine I'm most comfortable with, and the one that I make most often; to me, the salsa di pomodoro is to Italian cooking what bechamel sauce is to French - one of the fundamental and distinctive elements of the cuisine, whose versatility and simplicity yet-plain-goodness is what makes it so ubiquitous.

And at the risk of being a food snob, the two things I would never put into my tomato sauce would be garlic powder and tomato paste. Yeaacch on both accounts.

Here's the salsa di pomodoro recipe I learned from Chef Daley; I'm going to guesstimate exact proportions, since the original recipe yields enormous quantities:

Olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of your sauce pan)
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped (i.e. not too fine)
Two cans Muir Glen peeled whole tomatoes packed in basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
cracked black pepper (to taste)
koshering salt (to taste)

Saute the onions at a very low heat - what they call 'sweating the onions.' You'll want to make sure to stir them every couple minutes; even at a very low heat onions can brown pretty easily, and that will add a smoky taste to your sauce that you do NOT want.

While the onions are sweating, open the cans of tomatoes and dump them in a mixing bowl. You'll want to put the bowl in your sink, because what you're going to do now is very, very messy.

You're going to crush those soft, peeled tomatoes in your fists, which is one of the most therapeutic things you can do for yourself.

Seriously. Just try it sometime, and then tell me different.

When the onions are translucent and soft enough to smush with your spoon, add the tomatoes, half the basil, and the salt and pepper.

Cook on low heat for as long as you can stand it. Remember, the longer you cook it, the better it gets.

When you just can't take it anymore, take of heat and throw in the rest of the basil. That's key if you're going to be re-using the sauce later in something else (and isn't that the whole point?); it will give the dish your using it in a different, rawer basil note than what's provided by the herbs that were added to the sauce while cooking.

You can use this as the base for soup, as pizza sauce, for braising - hell, you could probably make a pretty good Italian Bloody Mary with it and grappa.

Nom nom, as they say.
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Re: Spaghetti sauce

Postby Marvell » Sat Jan 07, 2012 4:18 pm

Here's another one; the putanesca:

Same deal with the olive oil

5 large peeled garlic cloves (smashed under the flat of your knife using the heal of your left hand while holding the knife with your right; press down on the clove slowly and firmly, and when the casing gives, smash it. It takes a while to get it down, but then it's another extremely satisfying kitchen ritual)

1 large red onion, thinly sliced vertically
1/4 cup of drained, diced capers
1/2 cup of pitted, chopped kalamata olives
1/4 cup of anchovies, thinly sliced
1 pint of squished cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup of chopped basil
1/4 cup of cheap chianti, or whatever Italian red suits you
pepper to taste (between the anchovies and the olives, you're probably not going to need any salt)

Start off the garlic in the olive oil. Once it's nice and soft (but not browned - again, a very low heat is the key), add the onions. Again they should be sweated; one of the virtues of a great tomato sauce is that it teaches you patience.

Once they've finally reached that translucent and mushy consistency we love so well, add the capers, olives, anchovies and half the basil, toss in the wine, and crank the heat up a bit. Get it to a nice rolling boil, and let it sit there for a couple minutes; this will sublimate most of the alcohol, and bind all these strong flavors together into a sexy stew of esters.

When you think you've fused your flavors sufficiently, pour in the tomatoes, the rest of the basil, and add the pepper. Turn the heat back down, and once again let it cook for as long as you can stand it. Serve on fusili garnished with chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley; Chef Daley would always scoff at people who topped their putanesca with cheese, but food snob though I may be if you want to adorn yours with a little romano or pecarino - hey, I'm not going to narc you out.
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Re: Spaghetti sauce

Postby Marvell » Sat Jan 07, 2012 4:23 pm

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Re: Spaghetti sauce

Postby Lily » Sat Jan 07, 2012 7:47 pm

Detritus wrote:Sounds great, Lily! I always start with a simple marinara and then improvise from there. Typically, though, I toss in a half-cup of red wine, a splash of Thai fish sauce, and a finely diced jalapeño. My spicing usually includes oregano and cumin in addition to the basil.

Have you tried making your own pasta?


No I haven't. Got a good recipe?
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Re: Spaghetti sauce

Postby Lily » Sat Jan 07, 2012 7:56 pm

Marvell wrote:In a former life I was prep cook for Trattoria Delia in Burlington, Vermont (in fact, I made the first meatballs they ever served). Italian is still the cuisine I'm most comfortable with, and the one that I make most often; to me, the salsa di pomodoro is to Italian cooking what bechamel sauce is to French - one of the fundamental and distinctive elements of the cuisine, whose versatility and simplicity yet-plain-goodness is what makes it so ubiquitous.

And at the risk of being a food snob, the two things I would never put into my tomato sauce would be garlic powder and tomato paste. Yeaacch on both accounts.

Here's the salsa di pomodoro recipe I learned from Chef Daley; I'm going to guesstimate exact proportions, since the original recipe yields enormous quantities:

Olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of your sauce pan)
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped (i.e. not too fine)
Two cans Muir Glen peeled whole tomatoes packed in basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
cracked black pepper (to taste)
koshering salt (to taste)

Saute the onions at a very low heat - what they call 'sweating the onions.' You'll want to make sure to stir them every couple minutes; even at a very low heat onions can brown pretty easily, and that will add a smoky taste to your sauce that you do NOT want.

While the onions are sweating, open the cans of tomatoes and dump them in a mixing bowl. You'll want to put the bowl in your sink, because what you're going to do now is very, very messy.

You're going to crush those soft, peeled tomatoes in your fists, which is one of the most therapeutic things you can do for yourself.

Seriously. Just try it sometime, and then tell me different.

When the onions are translucent and soft enough to smush with your spoon, add the tomatoes, half the basil, and the salt and pepper.

Cook on low heat for as long as you can stand it. Remember, the longer you cook it, the better it gets.

When you just can't take it anymore, take of heat and throw in the rest of the basil. That's key if you're going to be re-using the sauce later in something else (and isn't that the whole point?); it will give the dish your using it in a different, rawer basil note than what's provided by the herbs that were added to the sauce while cooking.

You can use this as the base for soup, as pizza sauce, for braising - hell, you could probably make a pretty good Italian Bloody Mary with it and grappa.

Nom nom, as they say.


Oh wow. You make me feel like Chef Boy R dumb. Please feel free to be a food snob--that's how I learn about the good stuff.

I will MOST DEFINITELY will try your sauce recipe. Sounds so incredible. Thank you so much. I normally get real garlic but caved for the powder over one recipe which I have since dumped. I have a question tho--why don't you like tomato paste? And, while I'm asking, is it okay to use anchovy paste (those tubes are so convenient) or better to use the little fishies in olive oil?
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Re: Spaghetti sauce

Postby Petro » Sat Jan 07, 2012 9:03 pm

This thread just reminded me that I've got two gigantor cans of san marzanos from Costco in my pantry.

I see a weekend project happening.
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Re: Spaghetti sauce

Postby fennel » Sat Jan 07, 2012 10:06 pm

I grew up making spaghetti sauce with tomato paste but, via circumstance and experimention, came to believe that whole canned tomatoes are the way to go. I sometimes smush them per Marvell's method, but more often I simply cut them right in the pot with a pair of kitchen shears.
To begin, before adding the oil and onions, etc., I add whole fennel seeds to the hot pan for a minute or two, to let them toast. Then I add fresh or dried rosemary (which is sacreligious to traditionalists, I know, but I'm in her thrall), and go from there.
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Re: Spaghetti sauce

Postby Marvell » Sun Jan 08, 2012 12:02 pm

Lily wrote:I have a question tho--why don't you like tomato paste? And, while I'm asking, is it okay to use anchovy paste (those tubes are so convenient) or better to use the little fishies in olive oil?


My beef with tomato paste is that it's too sweet; I know some people add sugar to their spaghetti sauce, and if that's yer thing then I guess tomato paste is probably the way to go. But to me it's just cloying; also, sometimes the can (or tube, as the case may be) gives it a metallic taste that's very unappealing. Plus you have to thin it with something, which often results in a watery sauce.

Just as a general rule of thumb, the more processed the ingredient is, the less fresh it tastes. I know - duh, right? But that's kind of my point; I'd rather use fresh herbs than dried, and I'd rather use the actual anchovies than the paste. Part of it is, admittedly, a tactile thing; it's just more fun for me as a cook to work with the thing itself rather than a distillation of it. But I also truly believe you can taste the difference.

I know that, especially in our current economy, you can't always get and/or afford the real deal. A tip for using dried herbs; run your knife across them a few times before adding to the sauce - that will help bring out the essential oils, and will increase the amount of flavor that they bring to your dish.

Happy cooking!
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Re: Spaghetti sauce

Postby Marvell » Sun Jan 08, 2012 1:09 pm

Detritus wrote:Have you tried making your own pasta?


The only pasta I make myself anymore is gnocchi, partly because you don't need a mixer to make it (I got spoiled by having industrial sized hobart mixers to play with when I did this professionally).

It's hard to give you a recipe with exact proportions since gnocchi dough (like all dough) is largely a matter of feel; to paraphrase the famous pronouncement regarding obscenity, I know a good dough when I feel it. And, if I may overshare, there's something sensual - even sexual - about the feel of a good dough; sometimes I just smack it with my hand like I'm spanking my lover's ass.

Whew. Gettin' hot in here.

Anhoo - get a big mixing bowl and throw in a bunch of eggs. Add salt (1 tsp. per 6 eggs oughta do it) and pepper (1/2 tsp.) Then add the potatoes.

There's some controversy about the best way to prepare the potatoes for gnocchi, but after a lengthy conversation with (of all people) the Secretary of the Faculty at the UW I've decided that the optimal gnocchi potato is boiled, then run through a ricer.

You can also add other vegetables in addition to the potatoes; I've made squash gnocchi, spinach gnocchi, and beet gnocchi, and I've been told that in some parts of Italy they make fruit gnocchi and serve it for desert.

One year for Columbus day I made a different gnocchi for each color in the Italian flag. I was, admittedly, showing off.

Once you've got your eggs and taters all mixed together, start adding equal parts baking flour (I use whole wheat, but then I'm a dirty hippie) and semolina, kneading the dough by hand. At first it will be all sticky and icky, but eventually it will start to hold together. You want the dough to be nice and firm, and to not be tacky against your hand; that's where the ass-slapping test comes in.

Upon passing the ass-slap test, throw your dough into a baking dish, cover it with a clean towel, and toss it in the fridge to relax.

Pour yourself a glass of wine. You've earned it.

After an hour or so, pull out your dough. It will have re-tackified a little, but that's okay. Flour your board, and toss the loaf of dough on it. Keep it covered with the towel; it will dry out really fast. Cut off a strip of dough, and place it in the middle of the board. Put both hands on the dough, and roll it away from you with your hands making a v-motion away from each other. Add flour to your board as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. You're looking to end up with a long, even rope of dough approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter.

Once you've got your rope of dough, cut it into little inch wide chiclets (that's what they look like to me at least). Toss them in the flour on your board, so they're lightly coated.

Then get a sheet pan. Give it a nice even coating of flour. Take a fork and turn it upside down. Grab a little chiclet of gnocchi dough, and place it, with one of its flat sides facing down onto the tines, on the fork.

Take your thumb, press down lightly and roll the gnocchi towards and onto the sheet pan. If done correctly, it should retain the grooves from the fork on one side and have a thumb-shaped depression on the other. Some people say they look like little ears, which I suppose they do if you're talking about Jake LaMotta's ears.

Just keep repeating this process until you've rolled out all your dough. At which point you can just toss the sheet pans of little cauliflower-ear-shaped gnocchi into your freezer until you're ready to boil them.

The hard part of gnocchi is making them; cooking them is a snap. Just toss them into a boiling pot of water and stir; when they float, they're done.

Just a warning: if you serve them to company, everyone will secretly want to have sex with you. So you've got to take that into account as well.
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Re: Spaghetti sauce

Postby kittenwithawhip » Mon Jan 09, 2012 12:38 pm

I make my tomato sauce in the Southern Italian style, which, unless you are cooking meatballs in sauce for a long time is not usually cooked in Marvell's "as long as you can stand it" style. I also make puttanesca in the Neapolitan way, fast and hot, just like the ladies it was named for. The traditional story behind puttanesca is that these working ladies needed something they could cook quickly between clients and this sauce was ready in a hurry. That story has pretty well been debunked, but its still a pretty legend.
My favorite method for tomato sauce is the Scuie Scuie style, which means quick quick in Italian. I use a variation on Arthur Scwartz, who altho he is a Jewish man from Brooklyn gave me the background to feel comfortable cooking for my friends on the Amalfi coast. His book Naples at Table is one of the best English language cookbooks to capture the unique cooking style of the Campania region and goes with me to Italy on a regular basis. I also buy those huge cans at Costco, put them into smaller freezer bags and use as needed. I also by their huge bags of fresh garlic, mince in a food processor, mix in olive oil and then freeze them in ice cube trays. Store the cubes in the freezer and use as needed.

Also one hard and fast cooking rule in Campania is never to combine garlic and onions in the same recipe, they consider it redundant. They also like to keep their recipes uncluttered so the individual flavors stand out.

Here is his recipe along with some background. I use this with fresh tomatoes in the late summer, canned the rest of the year, unless I get a great deal on cherry tomatoes. This sauce over an angel hair pasta with some shaved parmesan is quick and lovely:

Five-minute Tomato Sauce
(Neapolitan Fillet of Tomato Sauce)

Makes 1 cup, enough for 6 ounces of pasta serving 2


In the United States, the expression "filetto di pomodoro" has come to mean, through its use in stylish, supposedly "northern Italian" restaurants, a quickly cooked fresh tomato sauce. It should mean exactly what it says, a sauce made with discernible strips of tomato pulp, cooked so quickly they don't turn to sauce. And it is certainly a southern Italian notion, not "northern.". One doesn't hear or see the expression "filetto di pomodoro" used much these days in Campania, although most people know what it is, and at the height of summer one is likely to eat it. Instead, it might be called sciuè sciuè, sauce in a hurry, or just tomato sauce, sugo di pomodoro. I've also been told that filetto di pomodoro is a bit old-fashioned, that the vine-type cherry tomatoes, which are much easier to handle and even more delicious (certainly sweeter) to many, are being used where tomato fillets used to be.

By the way, good canned tomatoes can taste almost fresh when cooked as these are, in only five minutes in a wide pan that promotes evaporation. Keep that in mind some January when you see "fresh" filetto di pomodoro on the menu of a "northern Italian" restaurant.


1 1/2 to 2 cups well-drained, seeded, canned peeled plum tomatoes, sliced lengthwise, into 1/4 - inch strip

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1 rounded tablespoon finely cut basil or parsley

1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon salt (depending on saltiness of tomatoes, canned needing less than fresh)

Pinch hot red pepper flakes

1. In a 7 to 9-inch skillet, combine all the ingredients and place them over medium-high heat. Simmer briskly for about 5 minutes for canned tomatoes, about 8 minutes for fresh, stirring a few times. The tomatoes should remain in pieces and there should be no liquid in the pan, only reddish oil separating from the tomatoes.
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Re: Spaghetti sauce

Postby NullDevice » Mon Jan 09, 2012 4:26 pm

I'm fond of the "cook a few big hunks of meat in tomato juice and wine until the meat is tender (i.e. all day), spoon the juice over pasta, eat the meat" method. My little italian neighbor-lady from when I was growing up used to do it that way.

Unfortunately she was a *terrible* cook - she over-salted the hell out of everything. But otherwise her methodology was reasonably sound. As were her mob ties.
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Re: Spaghetti sauce

Postby O.J. » Mon Jan 09, 2012 4:38 pm

Vinnie was in charge of the tomato sauce.
VINNIE: Get that smell?

Three kinds of meat in the meatballs: Veal, beef, and pork.
JIMMY: You got to have pork.
VINNIE: That's the flavor.
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Re: Spaghetti sauce

Postby Marvell » Mon Jan 09, 2012 6:09 pm

I was wondering when someone would bring up Goodfellas; I love that scene, especially the shot of Paul Sorvino shaving the garlic clove with the razor blade.

I think the cooking-all-day approach really applies best to sauces involving wine and/or meat; these sauces gain complexity by cooking a while. Plus the cooking thickens the sauce (in Goodfellas they call it 'the gravy'), making it stick more to the pasta.

kitten - I really dig the sauce science. Thanks for sharing.
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