Make Mine Marinara

As I’ve stated many times before, I’m a big believer in “Big Batch Cooking”. Few things in life comfort me as much as the knowledge that-come what may, I have a big batch of my ragu, or my mother’s Poor Man’s Stroganoff, or just chicken stock, filling up my freezer, just waiting to be either heated and eaten, or turned into something else to be heated and eaten.

But as the days lengthen and the temperature warms up I generally turn away from slightly heavier fare. I don’t necessarily want a creamy stew, or even a meaty spag bol. I start to crave lighter meals. But I do still want to be prepared; to have something other than that trusty chicken stock on standby for either a quick pasta supper, or maybe just a flavoursome sauce for fish.

And that’s when I feel the urge to make a big batch of marinara sauce.

Marinara sauce, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a sauce made from tomatoes, onions, and herbs,” is one of the best possible standbys to have in your fridge or freezer. It is of course your almost basic tomato sauce. Marinara sauces are much lighter and fresher than you might think – at least when made at home and not laden with extra sugar and preservatives etc (no, I don’t believe in a store-bought pasta sauce).

pizza_sauce As such, it’s the perfect sauce for summer. It’s not only brilliant on pasta, but is also the perfect base for topping homemade pizzas, a delicious accompaniment to a grilled piece of chicken, fish, pork, or even steak.  What’s more, since it’s more of a staple of Italian-American rather than Italian cuisine (trust me, there’s a difference), it leaves you a lot more room to experiment since you won’t be hindered by the strictures of tradition.

Marinara is incredibly easy to make, and all from easily obtainable kitchen staples. I don’t use fresh basil in my marinara, for one very simple reason: I like my marinara to be a base, a starting point. From that base sauce, when I’m reheating a portion of it for whatever purpose, I can add that basil (which only works when fresh, and is assertive when used in any sauce), capers, dried chilies or black olives (though I almost never use black olives as I loathe them- no Putta in the kitchen, I), vodka, or cream!

sauce_makingOnce you have this basic sauce as that starting point it will save you loads of time –in the future. A good marinara does take a bit of time to make. Tomatoes, whether you use canned or fresh, take a good couple of hours to cook down properly and lose that potentially sour raw edge.

But a lot of time does not equal a lot of effort and there’s not much actual effort here. Just the odd bit of pot-watching, stirring, and some deeply pleasurable squishing. The squishing may in fact be my favorite stage. If you’ve got kids (with clean hands) this is actually a great sauce to get them to help you with.

So here’s my recipe for a good all-round Marinara (Italian culinary purists, look away now):

Marinara Sauce
(makes 6-8 servings)

You will need:

  • A couple of good glugs of olive oil
  • 1 medium-large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes (optional. I like my Marinara to have a little bit of a kick, but then the older I get, the more I get my kicks where I can)
  • 1 20 cl mini bottle (or a big glass) of good dry white wine- you can use red,and in winter that’s what I use- but I like the lightness of white in the summer months
  • 6 400g cans of peeled Italian plum tomatoes in tomato juice
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • Salt and pepper

What to do:

  • In a large deep, lidded saucepan, heat the olive oil over a medium low flame until it’s fragrant. Then throw in the chopped onions and a good sprinkle of salt (the salt will stop the onions from catching). Let the onions saute until they soften and turn translucent. This will take a good ten minutes.
  • Once the onions are like mushy window panes, toss in the garlic, the oregano, and the chili flakes (if using), stir, and let them cook for just a minute or two. Then raise the heat just slightly, and pour in the white wine. Let the wine simmer until it’s reduced by at least half.
  • While the wine is reducing, it’s time for the fun part! Place a colander (ideally plastic or enamel) over a large bowl, then tip in the six cans of plum tomatoes. Then with absolutely clean hands, start squishing the tomatoes between your hands until they are a messy pulp in the colander. Give them a stir with a wooden spoon to send any juice they’re holding down into the bowl.
  • Once that wine is reduced by half (the onion/garlic/oregano mixture should look like a distinctly wet slurry), tip in the tomatoes from the colander. Give them a stir in the saucepan, then add the juice from the bowl and the tomato puree. Stir vigorously for a minute to mix in the puree then let  it come to a steady low simmer.
  • Season with one more sprinkling of salt and a good grind of pepper then just put the lid almost but not quite entirely over the pot, and let it simmer away for about 2 1/2 hours, giving it the occasional stir and taste.
  • After 2 1/2 hours, the sauce should have reduced by about a third, and have a good, thickish and slightly chunky consistency, as well as a deep cooked tomato flavor spiked with just that note of onions, garlic, wine and herbs.
  • At this point I personally let the sauce cool down a bit, then puree it with an immersion blender. That’s because I find the sauce is more versatile if it’s smooth and velvety (which it so deliciously is). If you like the more “artisan” nature of a slightly chunky sauce, buon gusto!

And as I mentioned above, don’t just think of a Marinara as being a sauce for pasta or pizza; remember that grilled fish! Or that steak Pizziaola! Or go fabulously 80s retro and use it as a dipping sauce for deep-fried mozzarella!

mozz_sticks


Related Posts:

Super Easy Two Ingredient Biscuits

Have just made a batch of Two Ingredient Biscuits (that’s biscuits in the American sense). So quick, so easy that it’s almost ludicrous. I used a 2in biscuit round and made 8 biscuits.

biscuits12

Ingredients

  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1½ cups heavy or double cream

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 450F / 230C and either grease a baking sheet or line it with baking paper
  • Add flour to a large mixing bowl. Slowly pour in cream and stir until just combined.
  • Place dough onto a floured counter or board. Knead a few times into a solid mass then pat out to about ½ inch thick.
  • Cut out biscuits using about a 2 inch biscuit cutter – OR – break off about 2-3 oz and roll into balls
  • Place biscuits onto baking sheet with 1 inch between biscuits to allow them to rise and cook fully.
  • Cook for 10-12 minutes, depending on your oven.

Let cool and enjoy!

TOP TIP: If your self-raising flour has been sitting around for a while, add a SMALL (seriously – small) dash of baking powder (Bicarb of soda for those in the UK).

TOP TIP TWO: If you don’t have self-raising flour, you can use plain but you’ll need to add 1½ teaspoons of baking powder and ½ teaspoon of salt per cup of flour.

May is Salad Month!

What gives you more scope for experimentation and improvisation than a salad?

caesar-salad

Winter salads, summer salads, entree salads, starters salads, side salads. Salads in all shades of green, tomato salads, egg salads, rice salads, potato salads, tuna salads, pasta salads, chicken salads – it’s all good.

Now that the weather is warming, chicken Caesar salad will be appearing more and more in the kitchen at TransAtlantic Towers. There may even be a bit of home made Caesar dressing happening. We can also safely assume there will be herb salads galore because the TransAtlantic kitchen garden is bursting with all sorts of herby goodness – not the least of which is a mint that looks ready to take over the world. But the mint is another story for another day.

Right now – the issue is salad and as May is Salad Month, we’ve tossed together a mix of our fave salad and salad related posts.

tomato_basil

tangychutney

Couscous_cranberries

You’ve got so many options – so get tearing, tossing and tucking in. Happy Salad Month!

Easy-Peasy Donuts for Donut Week

Happy National Doughnut Week!  Let’s get this out of the way immediately – doughnut or donut. We all know what we mean and I’m sure I speak for many when I say, “stop quibbling – let’s eat!”

donuts

So donuts. You could buy them, of course. Or you could make them. Sound ridiculous? Not at all.

Making donuts can be as easy or fiddly as you choose to make it but they never take too much time. If you wanna go wholly homemade, feel free – the Pioneer Woman has a wonderful step-by-step recipe to follow. I choose to take the easy route with cheater’s donuts. I also choose not worry too much about the strict definition of donut vs biscuit vs beignets. These look and taste just as donut-y as anything I’ve had from the grocery store. Bottom line: when the donut craving hits, this version works wonders.  I like glazed or sugared. I’ve also done “adult” donuts with rum-infused glaze. But possibly that’s another story for another time.  Let’s go with sugared donuts for ease.

You will need:

  • 2 cans of biscuits (makes about 8 donuts and 8 donut holes)
  • Granulated sugar
  • Vegetable oil

Directions:

  • Layout the biscuits on a cutting board
  • Use a round cookie or biscuit cutter to cut your donuts out.
  • Use a smaller cutter, wide pastry tips or coke bottle cap (or something similarly sized) to cut the hole in the center of each donut.
  • Heat 2-3 inches of oil on medium/high. You need the oil to be more or less 350ºF. To test to see if it’s ready, drop a small piece of dough in it. It should sizzle immediately. If nt, wait and bit and try again
  • Place donuts and donut holes in the oil for about a minute on each side, until golden brown. Don’t do too many at once or you bring the temperature of the oil down too much
  • Remove from oil and place on a paper towel to soak up the excess oil.
  • Put some sugar in a small brown bag (those bags to store mushrooms in work very well) and shake each donut in the bag until coated.

Eat and enjoy! And if you have kiddies about, let them do the sugar shake. They love that sort of thing.

donut_istock

You can also dust your donuts with confectioners/icing sugar; glaze them (a classic glaze is quick and easy – see below); coat them with chocolate and sprinkles … anything you want.

A classic donut glaze:

  • You will need:  2 cups powdered sugar,  1/4 cup milk and  1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Directions: Whisk the ingredients together until smooth. Once your doughnuts are cool enough to handle, dip top-side down into the glaze. Put on racks to let the glaze harden.
  • Top Tip: make the glaze after the donuts to fill the time – also means the donuts are ready to go when the glaze is at its most dippable consistency.

So, in the words of Fred the Baker: “Time to make the donuts.”

Cranky Pom/Cranky Apple

This is a cranky pom. It’s quite tasty. It is a drink based on the earlier cranky apple, a cocktail I made up ages ago.

cranky_pom2

One evening, I found myself with a bottle of cran-apple juice, some vodka, dash or two of lemon, and a bit of something for fizz (I believe that on that particular evening, it was lemon seltzer). Since the ingredients didn’t explode or smoke when I put them together, I drank it. The cranky pom is the same as the cranky apple except I didn’t have cran-apple juice one day – all I had was cranberry-pomegranate. What they hell, I thought. … and still no explosions or smoke.

So I grabbed a bendy straw and had at it.