I love Italian food. I love everything about it. How it makes me feel when I cook it – confident, yet humbled – when I eat – roll my eyes to the back of my head, satisfied (trust me, you’ll feel that way when you try this sauce) and most importantly, the way it makes me feel when I can share an incredible meal with others. Because when you cook authentic Italian, like the way it was intended to enjoy there is nothing better. Think Sunday lunch, the family sitting around the table for hours, Nona slaving away in the kitchen pouring all her love into her signature sauce. You don’t have to be Italian to experience that. I’m not; I just appreciate true, authentic cooking.
That’s why I love, love, love Marcella Hazan’s, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I first encountered this book on an episode of Anna and Kristina’s Grocery Bags. They totally bombed their cooking day – I think the guest chef said he wanted to cry – but nonetheless, I was intrigued by their review. It wasn’t until I came across an article in our local newspaper about cookbooks. The author listed 10 of the must have cookbooks. Marcella’s was one of them. I bought it this summer and read it cover to cover. If you want authentic Italian recipes look no further. It has it all! The most flavourful and richest Bolognese sauce. Incredibly detailed and thorough step-by-step directions on how to make fresh pasta – if you can read, you can make your own pasta, trust me! And the BEST tomato sauce that will ever pass your lips. This recipe is so simple it’s crazy! It’s crazy to think that just three ingredients can make the best sauce ever. Have I said that this is the best sauce you’ll ever taste??
Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
I don’t know about you, but I’ve tried so many tomato sauce recipes, only to be let down over and over again. It’s bitter, or not sweet enough, tasteless or just too much stuff going on in there. Not this one it’s perfect! There are, however, three things to keep in mind to make it perfect. Number one, the tomatoes, MUST be imported Italian San Marzano tomatoes. Spend the extra couple of bucks because North American Roma tomatoes will just not do. I’ve heard what makes San Marzano the king of all tomato sauce tomatoes is the strong Italian sun that ripens them. I don’t question this because you know what, the proof is in the pudding, or in this case the sauce! Number two, which is a little more obvious. You must use real, unsalted butter, none of that “heart healthy” – I beg to differ – margarine. Use the real stuff here! Finally, just let the sauce bubble away slowly, uncovered, giving the tomatoes the time to breakdown and the water to evaporate.
I have also included a recipe for Marcella’s gnocchi, the perfect accompaniment to this heavenly sauce! Again, this recipe is so simple and fool proof. It doesn’t have any eggs! Just potatoes and flour and it all comes together beautifully. The secret is to use boiling potatoes. These are red skinned potatoes. Boil them whole, peel them hot and puree them using a food mill or ricer. Don’t mash them, you’ll over work it. Just follow the directions below for supple little dumplings of goodness!
“This is the simplest of all sauces to make, and none has a purer, more irresistibly sweet tomato taste. I have known people to skip the pasta and the sauce directly out of the pot with a spoon.”
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish
2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up with their juice
5 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt to taste
1 to 1 ½ pounds of pasta
Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
Put the tomatoes in a saucepan, add the butter, onion and salt and cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for 45 minutes, or until the fat floats from the tomato. Stir from time to time, mashing any large pieces of tomato in the pan with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and correct for salt. Discard the onion before tossing with pasta.
Note: I know this is sacrilege, but if you find your sauce a bit tart for your taste, add a sprinkle of sugar to taste. Yes I am NOT Italian!
At first glance the steps are a bit overwhelming, but after reading through them and during the cooking process, you’ll be glad that Marcella thought of including everything. The detailed explanation is very necessary for not only producing a superior product, but more importantly, giving you the TECHNIQUES to do so.
1 ½ pounds boiling potatoes (red skinned, waxy potatoes)
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1.Put the potatoes with their skins on in a pot of abundant water and bring to a boil. Cook until tender. Avoid testing them too often by puncturing with a fork because they may become waterlogged. When done, drain them and pull off their skins while hot. Puree them through a food mill and onto a work surface while they are still warm.
2. Add most of the flour to the pureed potatoes and knead into a smooth mixture. Some potatoes absorb less flour than others, so it is best not to add all the flour until you know exactly how much they will take. Stop adding flour when the mixture has become soft and smooth, but still slightly sticky.
3. Dust the work surface lightly with flour. Divide the potato and flour mass into 2 or more parts and shape each of them into a sausage-like roll about 1 inch thick. Slice the rolls into pieces ¾ inch long. While working with gnocchi, dust your hands and the work surface repeatedly with flour.
4. You must now shape the gnocchi so that they will cook more evenly and hold sauce more successfully. Take a dinner fork with long, slim tines, rounded if possible. Working over a counter and with the concave side facing you.
With the index finger of your other hand, hold one of the cut pieces against the inside curve of the fork, just below the tips of the prongs. At the same time that you are pressing the piece against the prongs, flip it away from the tips and in the direction of the forks handle. The motion of the finger is flipping, not dragging. As the piece rolls away from the prongs, let it drop to the counter. If you are doing it correctly, it will have ridges on one side formed by the tines and a depression on the other formed by the fingertip. When gnocchi are shaped in this manner the middle section is thinner and becomes more tender in cooking, while the ridges become grooves for sauce to cling to.
5. Choose, if possible, a broad pan of about 6 quarts’ capacity and approximately 12 inches in diameter. The broader the better because it will accommodate more gnocchi at one time. Put in about 4 quarts of water, bring to a boil, and add salt. Before putting in the whole first batch of gnocchi, drop in just 2 or 3. Ten seconds after they have floated to the surface, retrieve them and taste them. If the flavour is too floury, you must add 2 or 3 seconds to the cooking time; if they are nearly dissolved, you must subtract 2 or 3 seconds. Drop in the first full batch about 2 dozen. In a short time they will float to the surface. Let them cook the 10 seconds, or more, or less, that you have determined they need, then retrieve them with a colander scoop or a large slotted spoon and transfer to a warm serving platter. Spread over them some of the sauce you are using and a light sprinkling of grated Parmesan. Drop more gnocchi in the pot and repeat the whole operation. When all the gnocchi are done, pour the rest of the sauce over them and more grated Parmesan, turn them rapidly with a wooden spoon to coat them well and serve at once.