Sunday, May 22, 2011

All Purpose Marinara Sauce & a photo show of gnocchi making

Growing up there was only one type of sauce, my mother made it almost every Sunday after frying up a few dozen meatballs and some spicy Italian sausage. This was just how things were...we didn't know any vegetarians and so there was no reason to make a sauce that didn't start with the rich meaty flavors that came from using the left over bits of meatball stuck in the bottom of the biggest pan we had in the house. But now that I am living a few hundred miles away and have friends that follow every diet under the sun, I rarely make meat sauce because pasta is one of the only meals that most of us can eat long as the sauce is vegetarian friendly (and we ignore those gluten-free people!). When I first moved down here, I would still make my mothers classic meat sauce and use jarred sauce for those friends who didn't eat meat. But when I made things like lasagna where the sauce was already mixed in, we ran into problems. The fix was easy - learn to make a marinara sauce that would rival the deep flavors of any meat sauce.

When I looked on the internet for example recipes (usually I like to look at 4 or 5 different versions then decide which ingredients and methods I will go with), I wasn't happy seeing additions of sugar, powdered spices and other ingredients that my mother (never mind my grandmother!) would never have put in sauce. I decide to make up my own version and over the past year or so I feel that it is really a great substitute. Nothing will compare to a meat sauce and those nicely browned up bits of meaty surprise that are well incorporated into the sauce lending it flavors that are uniquely carnivorous. But this sauce avoids some of the most common pitfalls of vegetarian sauces, too many vegetables (don't get me wrong I love my veggies but this is pasta sauce not minestrone soup!), too thin and watery (I simmer low and slow just like a meat based sauce), too much "raw" tomato taste (the addition of carrots seems to add enough sweetness to balance the acidity of the tomatoes) and with a rich base that gives this flavor to spare (onion, garlic and a splash of red wine).

But first some pics of our gnocchi making session... 3 girls, 15 lbs of potatoes and 3 4  hours of work. Somehow things always seem to take a lot longer than they should but at least when you are making dinner there is a great reward for you at the end!

  Jess and Tova ricing the potatoes
Me trying my hand at the ricer 
Pouring beaten eggs into the potato
Making the ridges in the fresh gnocchi
 A close up of the finished goods!

Keep reading for the marinara recipe

Marinara Sauce
5 cloves of garlic - smashed and minced
2 small onions - grated (about 1 1/2c total)
3 carrots - grated (about 1 1/2c)
2 large cans tomato puree
2 large cans peeled whole tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 bay leaves
1/2 c fruity red wine
2 tbsp fresh basil - chiffonade
3 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper

1) In a large pan, heat oil and add garlic and onions
2) Without allowing garlic and onion to brown, saute and infuse oil with flavors
3) Add carrot and allow to soften
4) Add the tomato paste and stir to remove and browned bits on bottom of pan
5) Add all 4 cans of tomato, wine and bay leaves - let simmer
6) Once sauce has come back to a low boil, reduce heat and stir occasionally for 2- 5 hrs (sauce will lose water and thicken during this time add some water if it gets undesirably thick)
7) About 30 min before serving, add basil and salt & pepper to sauce to taste

Sauce can be canned in glass jars for long term storage or frozen in containers.