Monday, May 20, 2013

PROJECT P is for Pasta

Project P is for Party: {Dinner Party}
CALLING ALL HUNGRY PEOPLE! I thought I might share something today that didn't involve paper straws and banners. But don't worry, you'll still get your carbs on.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I LOVE pasta. Like whoa! I was raised by an Italian Dictator {no, not that one}. My stepfather is from Florence {Italy} and one thing all Italians have in common is a love for good food. Growing up we always ate at the table together, there were always at least two courses, and we never ate until the head of the table said, "Buon Appetito" and we responded enthusiastically with "Grazie Altrettanto". 

So now to my point. YOU WILL NEVER find a jar of spaghetti sauce in the house. If you do, some cute chubby Italian baby somewhere probably chokes on his teething biscotti. 

When I have friends over for dinner, I will often serve a course of pasta. And I'm going to share with you a simple base recipe. I usually make a large pot on Sundays. You can freeze portions of it if you like and even keep some in the fridge for that weeknight when you're simply running behind and need a quick solution. 

My Shopping List:
1 Large Can of Tomato Puree
1 Large Can of Whole Tomatoes
1 Can of Crushed Tomatoes with Seasoning
1 Small Can of Tomato Paste
1 Large Carrot
1/4-1/2 Cup Sweet Onions
2-3 Garlic Cloves or a couple tsp. of minced garlic
1-2 Tbsp Butter
Sea Salt
Italian Seasoning
Grated Parmesean or Pecorino 

Keepin'it real work table

Optional Ingredients {Things I will often put in depending what I have on hand}
Red Wine
Bacon {A cup is fine}
1lb Ground Beef
3 Italian Sausage links {it's really up to you though}
Bell Peppers
Mashed up Olives
Red Pepper Flakes {Some like it hot!}

Now, a couple things to note. If you have access to fresh tomatoes, go for the gold! It doesn't add that much to the cooking process, I promise. I just often don't want to pay the price at Publix for the ones I want. I need to look for a farmers market around me. All you need to do with the fresh tomatoes is blanch them and it doesn't take long at all. If you're using fresh tomotoes, I might add another small can of Tomato paste to the mix or at least have it handy. 

The optional ingredients are totally your call. If I want a meatless sauce, I like to add bell peppers or mushrooms. If I've sauteed peppers and onions for something else and I have them leftover, I will store them to throw into a sauce as well. 

You don't need to add an entire package of bacon. I usually grab a bunch of slices and just cut them into chunks with my kitchen scissors. A cup or so is just fine. 

Let's begin!
Get all your chopping out of the way. Onions, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, bacon, et cetera. I don't think I need to say it, but keep your meats away from your veggies. 

Here I have carrots, onions, garlic & I threw in some shallots that needed to get used.

Next up: EVOO. A staple in this house. We keep it on tap. 

Pour it in the pan like a boss! You can also add your 1-2tbsp of butter as well. If I'm doing a huge pot, I'll do 2 tablespoons. Heat your pan on medium/medium high. I usually adjust down a little from there as they start cooking.

I add the carrots first to give them a head start on the onions. I use carrots for two reasons. 1)To help cut the acidity of the tomatoes & 2)For sweetness. I don't like to use sugar in my sauce. If you want to sprinkle some into yours, I won't judge you. Pinky promise. 

Another item that would give it a touch of sweet would be some red/yellow/orange peppers. I love to use green peppers too, but for me that usually gives a little more robust flavor.

Here is the order in which I sautee....
Start with the carrots and give them a head start, then peppers {if using}, next onions, and finally as the onions are softening but not quite translucent, I'll throw in the mushrooms. They are probably only 2-3 minutes apart. I will add in fresh garlic somewhere in at the end prior to adding any meat. I don't like my garlic burned. If using jar minced garlic, you can do the same or wait until you add the tomatoes. If you prefer garlic powder, then add in with your spices. 

As the onions become translucent, I will add my meat if I'm making a meat sauce and let them all pan cook together. If you have a Bay Leaf handy, go ahead and throw that sucker in at this time too. 

Just as the meat is almost cooked {I usually do it at the point of a little pinkness}, add your tomatoes. Depending on how much I feel like making, I may use three giant cans like this or two and a smaller. As of late, I've been using the POMI tomatoes. 

If you're using the fresh tomatoes, you have the choice of running them through a processor first or adding them as is and crushing them with a fork as they cook for a more chunky style. My kids will eat the chunks, so I often opt for just fork crushing them in the pan. You could also use a potato masher. 

And now for the seasoning. My magic measurements? I simply sprinkle the entire top of the sauce. That is my exact science. I cover the top with seasoning and bring it back up to a small boil. 

Once the sauce starts bubbling, I turn it down low and continue stirring until it stops boiling. Go ahead and salt & pepper and give a little taste. You can also add your optional wine at this point as well to help bring it down in temperature. But this part is very important. If you haven't already popped the cork while chopping your ingredients for safety reasons, you MUST now pour yourself a glass as well. It's like an unwritten rule. 

Last, but not least, add in your tomato paste. This is good stuff peeps. It's concentrated tomatoes with all kinds of concentrated vitamins and the antioxidant Lycopene. It will help thicken your sauce. If using canned tomatoes, I would only use one small can. If you're using fresh tomatoes, add one now and then judge later on whether you find your sauce to be too liquidy for your taste and you can add a little more at the end. Since tomato paste has already been cooked for long hours you can wait to add it say 20 minutes before serving if you want to see how much your sauce cooks down on it's own. Your sauce, your consistency preference. 

And now, you just let it sit. I recommend a minimum of an hour {especially if you are using fresh tomatoes so that they break down}. I will let mine sit for multiple hours since I usually make it earlier in the day. 

Now all you have to do is decide what kind of pasta you're using! Cook it aldente, strain, put in your favorite serving bowl, heap some sauce on top, add your grated cheese & serve!

Dinner is served! 

1 comment:

  1. I love that you put this together so I don't have to keep asking you. Looks yummy!