TIS THE SEASON
It is said that shared joy is doubled joy. I am a firm believer in all things that bring double joy. You know like, a pair of German Shepherds, a package of Reese’s Peanut butter cups and that second smoky, sweet whisky cocktail enjoyed at the end of a long week. (Speaking of which, good God Savage & Cooke, when can we try your whisky?)
Earlier this week I did a thing that In all honesty I rarely do anymore. I cooked. WHAT?! (Question: Does the exclamation mark go before the question mark or after? Inquiring mind you know.) It is true. Over 20 years ago I spent some time catering on motion picture sets. I was able to travel as far away as Easter Island, where I spent 10 weeks cooking for over 600 people. (Not by myself.) I spent many months traveling around the South West spending time in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. The last 5 years of my career I spent working the streets of San Francisco (easy now) serving hot soup and cappuccinos to a grateful crowd in the 90’s. I have spent more time cooking in the rough, on food trucks and street corners, than I have in proper restaurant kitchens. Although, I did have a loft in Oakland where I put in a commercial kitchen. My loft neighbors would drop in from time to time to taste what I was playing at. I did work out a fine recipe for chicken liver pate which I would serve at my end of summer martini party. Rest assured, I had proper cleaning and refrigeration facilities for the food I served.
Working in San Francisco was a challenge. The streets are narrow and rarely flat. So instead of a large mobile kitchen I had customized cargo and a high output propane burner. Each night shoot I produce 5 gallons of hot soup and any number of crispy melty sandwiches to keep the crewing moving and warm. What I did not do was cook very many proper meals. While my ability to feed on the fly improved, I was rapidly losing any star earning capability. By the end of that career I had mastered soup, sandwiches and coffee. With the odd roasted chicken for myself thrown in. At Thanksgiving I would need to refresh my skills at Turkey roasting and tater mashing. Gravy can still be hit or miss depending on whether I have had that second whisky yet or not.
But this last week I was feeling the need to stretch my culinary muscles once again. On Saturday, much to my surprise, I had a proper day off, time on my hands. With a second pot of coffee working its way through my veins I reached into my cupboard to see what there was to eat. Hmm, 2 cans of diced tomatoes, a half a pound of dried spaghetti, half of an onion, some chopped garlic, a container of untoasted bread crumbs already blended with Parmesan cheese. I also found, to my surprise, left over red wine. I mean, what is that? Left over wine? Never heard of such a thing. Feeling a little inspired I set into making a classic red sauce which I would like to share with you. Now I had told myself that I would not be giving out recipes. That was not what this blog would be about. But . . . I had such luck in putting together this successful meal that I wanted to share it with you and in doing so, double the joy.
Now I am not a creative cook. I learned technique and the classic dishes. If I ever opened a café all of the dishes would be immediately recognizable, and unforgettable, I hope. Back to the Red Sauce. There are one or two tricks that I have learned that I will share with you now. If you follow these steps, I believe, that you too will have a successful meal on your plate. Here we go:
- Take two cans of diced tomatoes, strain them through a colander reserving the juice.
- Pour about 1/8th to ¼ of an inch of olive oil in a deep stainless steel stock pot with a heavy bottom. Stainless steel is non-reactive and the heavy bottom evens out the heat from the stove.
- Heat the olive oil on medium heat until it shimmers.
- Pour the drained tomatoes carefully into the hot oil and turn the heat up to high, stirring every two minutes. (Trick #1 – this raises the temperature of the tomatoes passed the boiling point so that they begin to caramelize.)
- Continue cooking the tomatoes for about 10 minutes then add the reserved liquid. Turn the heat down to medium.
- In a separate sauté pan, heat a small amount of olive oil over medium heat and cook ¼ of an onion diced with about 5 cloves of chopped garlic. Cook until just soft then add to the tomatoes.
- Add ¼ of a diced onion, uncooked, to the tomatoes. (Trick #2 – The raw onions give the sauce a fresh flavor component that long cooked sauces sometimes lack.)
- Add 1 cup of red wine. (Trick #3 – Tomatoes like a little alcohol. For some reason it enhances the rich tomato flavors.)
- Turn down the heat to low.
- Add 1/3 cup of cream or whole milk to the tomatoes. (Trick #4 – The milk adds a richness to the sauce that is surprising.)
- Add 1 tablespoon of sugar. (Trick #5 – The tomatoes, wine and even milk, have a fair amount of acid. The sugar will help balance out the flavor. Not too much though. Taste and adjust.)
- Let cook another half hour or so.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- You may turn off the heat, let the sauce rest a minute, then ladle off any excess oil, if you wish.
I mixed the sauce with cooked spaghetti and topped it with the breadcrumb mixture that I toasted while contemplating the insane thought of leftover wine. A shaving or two of additional Parmesan cheese made the dish.
I hope that you may find success with this dish and many more in the coming New Year. I also want to take a moment to thank you for the kind thoughts and words you have shared with me this year. I am afraid that many of them where so thoughtful that they caught me off guard. Writing has always been a thing that I would do . . . one day. What set out as a writing practice for me, this blog, has become a reason for me to wake up on Thursday mornings. To be able to share my view of Vallejo and our neighbors is both a privilege and a joy. This blog has given me the cover I needed to explore our little town and it has not been found wanting. It has brought me new friends with amazing conversation. Most importantly, it has given me the opportunity to see a glimpse of our shared future, and I like it.
May you enjoy the happiest of holiday seasons with a full and successful New Year.
Until next time,
Eat Well and Smile Often