Souper Tuesday: Homemade Tomato Sauce (or, Food for a Southern Snowpocalypse)
I’ll honest with you: I don’t really feel like writing today. First, I finally picked up Mary Roach’s latest book, Gulp, at the library yesterday, and I could easily spend the rest of the night in bed reading. I was convinced that I needed a fiction book to get me back into reading, but I forgot what a fantastic writer Mary Roach is.
I also might be coming down with something. Pat mentioned this morning that he felt a cold coming on. Rory’s been coughing at night. Noah makes frequent reference to a cold that he “just had” or “may still kind of have, maybe,” though I’ve yet to see symptoms. I, who pride myself on rarely getting sick but live in constant fear of being struck with a horrible illness for even thinking such hubristic thoughts, felt healthy as a horse.
A headache started creeping up in the afternoon as I was preparing the boys’ afternoon snack, and I found myself frequently closing my eyes and pressing my forehead against edge of the kitchen cabinets. I just assumed the headache was stress related. I was trying hard to reflect on the “patience” mantra I trotted out in yoga yesterday. I was not doing a very good job.
Crash! Breathe deeply.
“Waaaah!!!” F@#k it. Where are the Thin Mints?
But tonight, reading Barnyard Dance for the fifth time, I started to think that my headache was going beyond a “Calgon, take me away” moment. Litmus test: I bought a six pack of Hell’s Belle today, and I don’t even want one. (Which is convenient, as a couple weeks ago I randomly vowed to not drink on Tuesdays.)
There may be a psychosomatic component of my aches and pains, as well, which can be attributed to the near-certainty that Noah and Rory’s school will be closed tomorrow due to a “snow event.”
Durham public schools have already announced a closing, so it’s only a matter of time. The kids’ preschool is already closed Thursday and Friday for conferences, so that means we got all of two days this week. (Moms up North, I know you’ve had even more school closings, and weather legitimately bad enough to keep you housebound. Please accept my condolences.)
Anyway, a good book and illness – real or imagined – notwithstanding, I didn’t want to drop the ball on a Souper Tuesday recipe.
This week: homemade tomato sauce. This might seem out of left field, considering it’s hardly the height of tomato season. But this recipe is surprisingly appropriate for any time of the year, and better, it’s really easy.
On Monday, my friend Alice offered me some surplus Roma tomatoes, along with some wasabi mashed potatoes (the potatoes don’t factor into this recipe, but do stand as a reminder that I will gratefully – gleefully, really – accept food offerings of every variety).
I accepted the tomatoes even though I am the only person in my family who likes them. Rory will eat tomatoes, but he also tries to eat magnets and his own shoes, so it doesn’t really count. Pat will eat jarred sauce, salsa and ketchup, but would also rather eat Rory’s shoes than one bite of raw tomato. And Noah made a point of telling the pediatrician at his 5-year-old check-up that he “does not, not, NOT like tomatoes.” (The doctor unhelpfully told Noah that he doesn’t either.)
I assumed I would use these gift tomatoes in a kitchen sink salad or broil them on a tuna melt. But suddenly it was 4:00 and my “what’s for dinner?” panic started creeping in.
I had the ingredients for my super easy, universally-accepted standby: spaghetti and meatballs. I had everything I needed: the frozen veggie meatballs (the Dominex eggplant ones are our favorite), a box of noodles and a jar of Newman’s Own Roasted Garlic Marinara. But then I saw the tomatoes. I turned to my guru Mark Bittman’s cookbook “How to Cook Everything: The Basics” (the same place I got this granola recipe).
Bittman is pretty much a “real food” kind of guy, so I was surprised (and secretly pleased) that his recipe calls for canned tomatoes. He includes a variation for fresh tomatoes, but he doesn’t lead with it. I only had about half the amount of fresh tomatoes that recipe would call for, so I used three Romas and one 14.5 oz can of diced. I also used a variation Bittman offered for “Spicy Tomato Sauce,” which you may know as “arrabbiata.” (I’m using that version here).
3 tablespoons olive oil, or more as needed
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
Pinch of crushed red pepper (I used 1/8 teaspoon, so as not to repeat this mistake.)
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, including the juice (I used about 1 pound roma tomatoes, cored, and 14.5 ounces diced.)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound any dried pasta
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1/2 c. chopped fresh basil leaves for garnish, optional
1. Cook the pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking water.
2. Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the garlic. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is brown – deeply colored, but not burned. Then turn off the heat for a minute, add the tomatoes.
3. Adjust the heat so the sauce bubbles enthusiastically and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and the mixture begins to thicken and appear more uniform in texture, 10 to 15 minutes. (Add meatballs here, too, if you’re including them.) Taste, adjust the seasoning, and adjust the heat so the sauce stays hot but doesn’t boil.
3. Add the pasta and a splash of cooking water to the sauce in the skillet and coat, adding a little more oil (I did) or cooking water if necessary to create a slightly creamy sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning and add more if you’d like; then toss with the cheese and the basil if you’re using it (I didn’t). Serves 4.
I was excited to try this recipe; I had the ingredients, it looked fast and easy. My excitement waned as Pat walked into the kitchen. I think I actually saw the words “tomato alert!” flash in his eyes as he glanced at the pan.
“Whatcha makin’?” he said in the same pseudo-casual cheerful voice he uses to compliment an obviously bad haircut.
“Spaghetti and meatballs.”
At this point, Noah walked up to the stove. “Oh no, toomaaatoeees!” he whined. I glared at Pat.
“Yes, I’m making sauce from scratch. But it will be like a sauce. You will like it. Everyone will like it.”
Pat still looked suspicious as I spooned the finished sauce into the bowl. I applied a heavy dusting of Parmesan cheese to each bowl to disguise the obvious chunks of tomatoes mixed in with the noodles.
“I’m going to need you to be a leader on this,” I said to Pat, raising my eyebrows and holding his gaze as I walked from the stove to the table.
And then…everyone liked it. Really, they did! And as a bonus, because the sauce was less, well, saucy, Rory’s face, clothes and hair weren’t coated in it by the end of the meal. Sure, there was still a rug of noodles under his chair. But that’s just another day in motherhood.
So, this was a revelation to me, but tell me: do you make your own tomato sauce? Is using tomatoes from a can heresy? Is EATING tomatoes heresy?