Thursday, September 30, 2010

Spaghetti dinner

 I remember being astonished by friends in college who didn't understand how to make decent spaghetti. They thought you just boiled the pasta, and dumped the sauce out of the jar.

I think the sauce should be a meal unto itself. Piles of veggies and meat, and forkfuls of flavor. Friday night was spaghetti night when I went to visit my dad on weekends as a kid. And his sauce was basically 2 pounds of hamburger with some garlic, tomato paste and bay leaves. Yummy stuff, and it quickly became comfort food for me.

Ariel made something similar for me a year or two into our relationship. That night is still a memorable one, and looking back, I think it probably helped seal the deal for me.

Tonight I made spaghetti sauce, twice. Once for dinner, and another batch in the crock pot for the rest of the week. 

The basics for good pasta sauce for me have always been pretty simple. You need a good base, good veggies, and meat. Over time, my list of veggies has expanded, and the process I use to cook everything has, too. I use store bought sauce as a base, since it's already pretty well seasoned, and it comes with a jar, which is great for storing leftover sauce. Given the amount of other ingredients that get added in, it's not uncommon for me to cook dinner, and have enough sauce left over to fill the whole jar, which can then go in either the fridge or freezer.

Basic ingredients:

-Store bought spaghetti sauce
-Bell peppers
-White mushrooms
-Green olives
-Bay leaves
-Tabasco sauce
-Chili powder
-Black Pepper

The process has typically been the same for me: cut up the veggies and throw them in the frying pan with some oil. Recently I started throwing some of them into the food processor with the mixing blade, because it chops them up much finer, which means they cook faster, and mix more evenly into the rest of the sauce. So, tonight I threw half green bell pepper, half of a beefsteak tomato, 2 scallions, a few garlic cloves, a handful of white mushrooms, half of a fresh jalapeno pepper, and a half-dozen green olives into the food processor, and mixed them up using the pulse button. It helps to use the pulse button so that the stuff on top doesn't float while the stuff on the bottom gets turned into juice. The result looked vaguely like relish. The mixture went right into the frying pan with some oil.

Next thing to go through the cuisinart was a couple of onions, chopped into chunks just small enough to go through the chute, to get sliced up. The sliced onion went into the pan, and got mixed up with the veg mix. I browned some sweet and hot Italian sausages, and chopped them up to go into the pan. I finished the whole mess by adding half a jar of store bought sauce, a few bay leaves, some tabasco, and some chili powder. I let that simmer for 5 or 10 minutes before starting to boil water for pasta.

One tip for simmering sauce: for years, I ignored the wisdom of using a screen to go over the frying pan. Given that I was a young man in his early 20's who didn't worry too much about things, the result was a perpetually messy stove top. It's still a little messy now, but it's much better than it was, and the use of the screen has helped tremendously.

By the time the pasta was fully cooked, the sauce was finished. Total time for the whole meal was something just under an hour, 30-40 minutes of which was spent actively cooking.

No comments:

Post a Comment