Work with what’s available. That’s always been my mantra. Don’t, at the start of the day, lock yourself in by saying “Today, I must have… (whatever that may be – salmon, asparagus, duck, etcetera). When I go to the market, my mind and my tastebuds are open. I look around, see what ingredients look like they are having a good day and bypassing those things that are, for whatever reason, not looking so fresh. And I go home with some good looking stuff to work with, rather than some sorry looking “must have” items.
If you’re not shopping; you’re home, you’ve got mouths to feed quickly, that same flexibility in thinking will serve you well. In our latest episode, we take tomatoes as an example. Let’s say you have some soft, too ripe tomatoes. Who knows… they were sitting in the corner and you forgot all about them, let’s say. Well, too ripe maybe for a salad, but perfect for something else… like a great tomato sauce. The ripeness will add a sweetness, and the softness will make it break down easier so you can have that meal ready and on the table much sooner than working with firm tomatoes.
This is so easy and so very basic, but this is the sort of dish that will repeatedly save the day, so everyone should know this. And here is how it’s done.
As an example this is what I would use for about three people ( or two very hungry ones )
Basic Italian Tomato Sauce:
- Tomatoes nice and ripe – 6, about two per person
- Garlic – one, two, or three cloves depending on how garlicky you like it
- Basil – a good handful
- Olive Oil – enough to generously cover the bottom of your pot
- Parmigiano Cheese
- Salt and Pepper
- Peperoncino (if you like spicy)
Chop your tomatoes into small cubes. Lightly mash your garlic cloves with the side of a kitchen knife but keep the skin on so that you easily can fish the piece out when the sauce is done. Of course, you are the cook, so if you and your guests really don’t mind garlic chunks then feel free to leave them in.
So we heat up some good olive oil over a very low flame and we drop in our garlic. What we flavoring the oil here to make a little “soffritto”. We don’t want to burn our oil, just enough heat to simmer the garlic a bit. After a couple of minutes you can drop in your chopped tomatoes. Add a bit of salt and or pepper. Be conservative… you can always add more later. Bring the heat up to medium and cover. After a few minutes of simmering you will see that the tomatoes are releasing a lot of water and now it’s starting to look saucier. You can help it along by mashing the chunks with a cooking spoon or a fork. Adjust the flame to make it an even medium low simmer, and cover again.
If you are going to make a meal of this right away, then get your pasta water going in a large pot. While that’s heating up, I would chop up a handful of basil and grate some Parmigiano. Add your basil to the sauce. At this point I’d taste the sauce and add more salt and or pepper if needed.
Once your water is boiling, salt your water, and add enough pasta for your meal. Judging whether the sauce is ready is really a subjective call. You decide when it looks like a sauce to you, but about 15 minutes is safe to say it’s about right. If you keep simmering, it will get drier and drier and eventually become more of a paste.
When your pasta is ready, drain it, and put it in with your sauce. Add your grated cheese and give it a mix; turn the heat back on just for a minute while you mix. This will help the sauce stick to the pasta and make sure it’s not watery. Plate it, top it with a little extra cheese and fresh basil to make it pretty, and that is IT, my friends… you have a really delicious meal, right there.
Enjoy (and don’t forget to sign up for our blog!)
Click pic at the top for full video tutorial with our kitchen friend Francesca.