Thursday, January 22, 2009

Basic Pasta Sauce For All Seasons

I'm not going to lie to you, readers. I've been feeling like crap lately. Emotionally and physically. There's no need for me to bore you with the details, because like most things, this time too shall pass. Y'know, I suppose it's the peaks and valleys in one's life that make a person's time on this planet more interesting. Although I'm sure many of you will agree that when you're mired knee-deep in the quick sand of your own personal valley, you wouldn't mind if things had turned out a little less interesting ... boring even! *sigh* But at the end of the day, it would be a shame if all of us were content with mediocrity.

One thing that cheered me up last night was watching Top Chef, my current favorite reality TV show! Drama and comedy. Drama and food. Drama with food. Delicious stuff! This show was destined to be a success with all foodies! I can't even remember which season this is, but last night sure got juicy! For those of you who don't watch the show, I won't poke fun. I won't feel sorry for you either. You probably have "better things to do", right? Especially for that one late hour on Wednesday night? Ahan. Suuuuuuuuuuure you do.

For the rest of my fellow Top Chef fans, what did you think of this season's Restaurant Wars? Did you think, like me, that the food was a little boring? I was hoping for something more daring and new. Judge Tom's reaction to most of the dishes was "cooked well" or just a "good" with a shoulder shrug that said "meh" (by the way, that's now an official word in the urban dictionary ... yes, I live to impart such valuable gems of knowledge upon you). Stefan's desserts really did seem to be the only foodie highlight of both sets of menus. That's all he needs, another ego boost. I can't believe Carla got away with two desserts that failed miserably. Not that Radhika was any better - trust me, I was tearing my hair out with her poor leadership and front-of-house skills. And let's not even get started on the Leah-Hosea soap opera! What I fail to understand is - do these people forget that every move they make is being filmed?! I'm no psychiatrist, but I think deep down these two wanted to get caught.
You know what makes me feel like a Top Chef? This simple spaghetti with red sauce dish. A handful of basic ingredients, and it results in the perfect pasta sauce for all seasons. And so versatile! I got this recipe from the food-loving Biology teacher over at The Teacher Learns to Cook, and I can't thank him enough for sharing this with the rest of the us. Check out his photos for this post. If you've got kids, this is definitely a winning dish. It's perfect for adults too, because of the spicy kick from the pepper flakes and the addictive saltiness of the parmesan. It easily serves 4-6 grown-ups, so call over your neighbors and have a pasta + Top Chef night!

Spaghetti With Simple Tomato Sauce (the 'twist' is in the way it's prepared)

1 35oz can of whole plum tomatoes (not plum-like), preferably San Marzano

3 oz extra virgin olive oil (the best you can find in your grocery store)
1/2 or 1 tsp of crushed red pepper flakes
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
8 large fresh basil leaves
Upto 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup grated fresh Parmigiano Reggiano (not the pre-grated stuff this time, sorry!)
1 lb spaghetti, cooked al dente in well-salted water
Garlic bread (optional, but sooooo desirable)

1. Heat the oil and the red pepper flakes over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.
2. Add the chopped garlic and fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant.
3. Stir in the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Keep it simmering for 10-15 minutes.
4. Turn off the heat and stir in salt and fresh basil.
5. Puree the sauce with a handy immersion blender until smooth, for a good 5-8 mins. The sauce emulsifies, making it look and feel divinely creamy, even though not a drop of cream has touched it. This step is a must for me, because otherwise you have the oil separating from the tomato sauce.

6. Add in the cooked pasta, stir well and serve immediately with generous toppings of the freshly grated parmesan and big chucks of garlic bread to sop up that creamy, dreamy sauce.

(Variations: (1) Make your own meatballs, searing them off in a separate pan, then finish cooking them in the simmering sauce. Remember to take them out when you need to puree the sauce, then put them back in before adding the cooked pasta. (2) Marinate 1 lb of boneless chicken pieces, in bite size chunks. I use a little bit of balsamic/red wine vinegar with salt + pepper as my quick marinade. Then fry them in the same oil you are going to use for the red sauce. Once the chicken is cooked, take it out, and add it back once the sauce is pureed and ready).


vanillasugarblog said...

I love a good sauce. This looks sooo good! I'm having pasta tonight because of this lol

krwebb said...

This looks wonderful!

Doppelganger said...

I've been obsessed with Bechamel and experimenting with Mornay sauces for so long that I had forgotten the joys of a simple yet luscious and delicious tomato sauce. YUm!!! Thanks for this recipe! and for reminding me pasta goes well with some meatballs and red sauce. I love the addition of the red pepper flakes.