29 December 2010

Tomato Sauce

I'm learning about the way pasta sauces should be. You see, Americans are kind of crazy about their sauces, crazy like "let's bury the carbs in blankets of thick, homogeneous, super-salted, cheese-laden, gloppy with no identifiable veggies sauces" crazy. And you know what? I don't really blame them, given the taste and texture of mass-produced pastas available in cardboard boxes on grocery store shelves. I mean, they look pretty perfect, all shaped the same and packaged so perfectly, but let's be honest—when was the last time you took a grocery store brand, 97¢ box of pasta, cooked it up, tested a noodle and thought "Oh my gosh! That's the best thing I've ever tasted!?" Exactly, and thus our love affair with sweet, goopy sauces is born.

As I've made my own pasta I've learned that sauces can be thick, thin, soupy, chunky, meaty, vegetable-laden, or thin or thick, spicy or mild. The most important thing Ive learned, though, is that your pasta and your sauce have to work together. Last week I made a hearty egg noodle with a thick, nearly tomato-less bolognese. This week I took a different approach, using an overly-thin (that part was not intentional) hot water noodle (no eggs) and a thin vegetable sauce that was laden with little chunks of tomatoes. And you know what? Despite the too-thin noodles, this combination worked.

My last word on pasta for today is this: it didn't take me any longer to make the pasta than it would have taken me to run to the grocery store and buy, then come home and cook the noodles. Pasta is easy. And it tastes good. Here's this week's flavourful sauce:

Spiced Tomato Sauce
makes enough for 1 1/2- 2 pounds fresh pasta

2-28 oz. can whole tomatoes, with juices
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/2 cup white wine or chicken stock
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
salt and pepper to taste

Crush tomatoes by hand in a large bowl and set aside. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add oil, heat one minute, then add red pepper flakes. Cook one 1-2 minutes, then add onion. Cook until onion softens, then add garlic and cook two minutes more. Add thyme, turmeric, fennel, and 1/2 tsp salt, stir and cook for 1 minute more. Add wine or broth, and cook until completely evaporated, 6-10 minutes.

At this point you should taste your onions. And swoon. Now back to our regularly scheduled recipe.

Add tomatoes and cook until you find a consistency that works for you and your pasta. I cooked mine about 25 minutes and it was perfect to coat my pasta and the liquids absorbed into the pasta itself. When you put the pasta into the pot to cook, add the butter to the sauce and stir it in until melted. Reserve 2/3 cup pasta cooking liquid and add it to the sauce just before or after draining your pasta.

You can serve this over the pasta, American-style, or the way I prefer it, combine the drained pasta and sauce together in the pasta cooking pot and cook and stir 2-3 minutes until the two have become one.

Serve with chopped parsley and shaved pecorino.

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