Roasted Marinara Sauce

Roasted tomato marinara

So it’s been something of a busy year I’m afraid. All good things. Things like trips to Europe and moving into new apartments and getting a new dog (!). Somewhere in the shuffle I stopped blogging. Oh, I still experimented in the kitchen… but not very often. I still talked about it, still checked on my blog friends. Always bookmarked and brainstormed recipes. I’ve been trying to get back in my groove for a while and never actually took that first step.

I’m not really sure what came over me today. Or this week really. Basically, I’ve been craving baguette and marinara like you wouldn’t believe. I grabbed some bread and jarred sauce on my way home from work one night, but it was disappointing. And just like that, I had to figure out a new marinara recipe. Wasn’t even an option. And clearly I needed to take pictures and share.

I made a small batch because I didn’t know what to expect, or how much it would make. Bottom line, it is so fresh, light and delicious and I could mop it up with bread (or anything) for days. Really. The best part was that it was extremely easy to make.

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Roasted Tomato Marinara Sauce

(recipe makes 18 ounces – roughly 1.5 small mason jars. You may want to consider multiplying for your purposes)

2 lbs ripe tomatoes, cored & cut into halves or thirds
1/2 large onion, chopped in large pieces
7 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup red or white wine
2 Tbsp fresh basil
2 tsp fresh parsley
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp of hot sauce or 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional, include to taste)
2 Tbsp butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

These ingredients can all be tweaked for what you have on hand. For example, I happened to have fresh basil, parsley and thyme growing (more likely slowly dying) on my back deck, so I threw them in. I would recommend you include the basil, as it gave the marinara a distinctive flavor.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Core the tomatoes – insert knife about 1 inch into tomato and make a circular cut around the stem, keeping the point of the knife towards the center. You should be able to pull out a cone shaped portion of the core. Cut the tomatoes in halves or thirds and spread evenly in the bottom of an ungreased 9″ x 13″ baking pan. Distribute the chopped onions and peeled garlic throughout. Drizzle the wine and olive oil over the top, then distribute the butter pats evenly throughout. Frankly the butter and olive oil combination may have been a bit of overkill, but I couldn’t bear to leave one or the other out. Season generously with salt and pepper.

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Roast in the oven for 45 minutes. I ended up turning on my broiler for an additional 10 or 15 minutes because I didn’t feel that the vegetables were getting enough color. At this point, add the fresh herbs, returning to the oven for 10 more minutes.

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Remove from oven and spoon into a food processor (if you want to pour it in, do so at your own risk – this will splatter). Add Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce or red pepper flakes. Pulse in the food processor until the sauce has reached desired consistency. I prefer a smoother sauce so I pulsed several times until the bigger chunks have evened out. Taste and add additional salt and pepper as needed. This is perfect for pastas, pizzas, dipping – you name it. I wouldn’t count on it lasting long though!

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Bacon Marinara Sauce – The first and last marinara recipe you’ll ever need.

So, Cheri posed an interesting question on my contact page regarding a flavorful marinara sauce. More specifically, she dropped the “b” word…. BACON. What could I do but immediately run out to the grocery store? I did some googling, and was very disappointed with the recipes I saw, so this one is on me. I was trying to find an authentic recipe and I came up with very little. What a sad world we live in. Everyone would be a little happier with bacon marinara on their plate.

This is a good recipe to have in your back pocket. As easy as it is to pick up a jar of sauce at the store, it just doesn’t have the depth of flavor as a marinara you make yourself.  And believe me, This guy is approaching the grand canyon of marinara flavor.

I started with a mirepoix. Drop that term. You’ll sound so chef-y. A traditional mirepoix is a mixture of celery, onions and carrots and is a flavor base for a wide range of sauces and dishes. Ever hear anyone talking about aromatics? I don’t really think of celery and onion as aromatic, but apparently they are.  I also think it’s important to note that I hate celery (pretty passionately as a matter of fact) and I wouldn’t leave it out of this dish.

I started with several stalks of celery, a handful of baby carrots and a medium white onion. You could also use yellow onion, but I’d probably stay away from red onion.  This brings me to another point of reference.  When I first started cooking, I had no idea how to chop an onion.  I would generally cut off the ends, peel and then after laying it on a flat side, I would cut crosswise and diagonally to make a minced effect. No longer.  After watching the food network, I decided to try to learn the right way. Here’s how:

Cut off the ends of the onion and peel away the outer layer. Then, chop in half. Lay the onion down on its midsection and make horizontal cuts.

Now make vertical cuts.

Then, slice of the end a little bit at a time and it will make a beautifully chopped onion. So beautiful you may cry. You might be crying from the “aroma” anyways.

Bacon Marinara

1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 celery stalks, chopped
Handful of carrots, chopped
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic
1 large can crushed & peeled tomatoes
1 small can tomato sauce
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon worchestershire sauce
1 tablespoon italian seasoning
8 pieces bacon (or use pancetta instead)
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop the mirepoix and set aside.

Saute the bacon in a large saute pan until crispy. Take out and set aside. Once cool, chop into bite sized pieces.

In the bacon fat left in the pan, saute the carrots, celery and onion on medium low heat until soft, approximately 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add red wine and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the remainder of the ingredients (not the bacon) and simmer on low for 30 minutes. Add more wine, garlic or worcestershire depending on taste.

S was in charge of getting the crushed tomatoes, and he instead got whole canned tomatoes. I wasn’t as happy with them – even though we chopped them prior to using I thought they did not break down as much as I would have liked. Make sure the tomatoes are peeled. Otherwise your marinara will have gross tomato skins in it. No one wants that.

Add bacon and continue to simmer until sauce has achieved the consistency desired.

Remove the bay leaf, and serve with the pasta or dish of your choice. We added ours to a stuffed cabbage recipe (which will shortly follow) and it was INCREDIBLE. Thank you Cheri for pushing me to try this! I will  be using it for years to come!

Have a lovely Sunday!

-k

Mushroom Risotto. It’s serious.

I can vividly remember the first time I made risotto, and it was based on this very recipe. I was cooking a thank you dinner for my roommates, and I really wanted to reach into the very depths of my cooking ability to make an impressive dinner.  Risotto sounded hard to make and always tasted incredible when I ordered it in restaurants, so that’s what I landed on.  Not that I had doubted my abilities, but surprisingly it was every bit as tasty as I had hoped for.  The only reason I had doubts in the first place was because I’d watched hours upon days of the Food Network and a couple too many seasons of Top Chef, and they’re always talking about how hard the perfect risotto is to make.

The perfect risotto MAY be very difficult to make, but a very, very good and supremely delicious risotto is surprisingly easy. Time consuming? Yes. Muscle-ache inducing? Absolutely. But absolutely within the realm of reasonable skill level.

Mushroom Risotto (adapted from Giada DeLaurentis’ recipe at the Food Network)

8 cups canned chicken stock (or chicken broth)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion finely chopped
10 ounces portabella mushrooms, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice or white rice (I generally use regular white rice)
2/3 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, optional

The original recipe also called for peas. I didn’t have any on hand, so I left them out.

Melt butter in a large sautee pan. Add olive oil and then onions and cook on medium low heat until translucent. Add garlic and mushrooms, simmer until the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated and the mushrooms are tender.

Stir in rice and continue to cook for about 5 minutes. At this point, there will not be much liquid in the saute pan. This is important because it allows the rice to toast and develop a deeper flavor. After 5 minutes have passed, add the wine and stir often until incorporated.

Add the chicken stock one cup at a time, continuing to stir often.   Add the next cup of stock when the previous cup has been absorbed, which should take around 3 minutes each.  To give you an idea of how much stirring “often” is, I pretty much don’t step away from the stove for more than a minute during this stage.

Continue to cook until the rice is creamy and tender, continuing to add stock by the cup until the rice is cooked through. It should take about a half an hour.  That’s right, 30 minutes. Come minute 25 you’re probably going to be cursing me, this recipe and the rice to “freaking cook already”.  It’s okay, I’ve been there. I won’t be offended.  Also, I notice it makes my arm realllly tired.

Add the parmesan, salt and pepper, stirring well to incorporate. If you were to add in peas, you would add at this point in the recipe.

Although it can be the main course, I think this is a very nice side to serve with dinner. It is very rich and full flavored, so a little bit can go a long way. Don’t get me wrong, I never eat just a little bit. But other people could and be satisfied I’m sure.

Also, as a side note, this was the most golden risotto I’ve ever made, and the reason is the chicken stock I used. I got it at Trader Joe’s and would highly recommend.

Hope you enjoy!

-k

The Day I tackled My Culinary Mount Everest: Homemade Gnocchi

I had been planning on blogging this weekend. As in desperately wishing for a day in the kitchen and making lists upon lists of recipes, techniques and ingredients all week long. You see, we went to Mexico last weekend. Puerto Vallarta to be specific. I dutifully typed up some posts, set the timer and didn’t look back. Yes, I will go into more detail later. I also didn’t bring my camera, which I very much regret. See, I am a little paranoid about airlines losing my luggage  – which is strange considering no airline has ever even come close to losing my luggage. I also worry about the camera going through the xray machine. These are all baseless concerns and make me sound like a crazy person, I realize.

And since we’re on the subject of being crazy, I found 2 potatoes in my fridge yesterday morning and promptly decided to make gnocchi. Gnocchi is a recipe I’ve always eyed and never tried. I was a scaredy cat about it. Oddly enough (and I’m a little ashamed to admit this) the first time I tried gnocchi was at a dinner buffet in Vegas.  I used to be a very picky eater, and adamant that I “hated” all kinds of foods, most of which I had never tried. Since then I have a strict policy about always trying everything several times, even if it’s on my dislike list. This is relevant how? At the Vegas buffet there were very few foods I was willing to eat, and gnocchi looks like pasta – aka safe food. No surprise, I loved it (and still have dreams of actually eating all of the delicious food I turned down that one horribly misguided time).

So, after pulling the potatoes out of my bottom fridge drawer, I pretty much lunged across the room for my computer to look up a basic recipe. Thanks to Deb at smittenkitchen.com – one of my favorite food blogs and always trustworthy advice, I found out I could grate the potatoes for the correct consistency instead of using a mill or a potato ricer. Did I even know there was a chance I’d need a mill or ricer? NOPE. So an easily solved problem I didn’t even know I had.

Gnocchi (Adapted from Deb’s recipe on smittenkitchen.com)

2 pounds Russet potatoes
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten

This is the original recipe. I had to alter slightly as I only had 2 potatoes. They were heavy potatoes, but very unlikely 2 pounds worth. I’m just guessing here. I wasn’t going to throw them on the bathroom scale to find out. I used half an egg and just slowly added flour until my dough was formed.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prick potatoes with a fork to allow even and thorough cooking and bake for 45 minutes, turning over halfway. Let them cool and peel. I used a paring knife to remove the skin and I think would be easier to do it this way than with a vegetable peeler.

Grate the peeled potatoes on a grater with large holes, put in a bowl. Add salt and the egg, lightly beaten. Start adding flour, a little bit at a time. Apparently, the less flour you use the better. It makes sense because the dough becomes more and more dense as you add flour, and you want your gnocchi to turn out light and fluffy. Or maybe you don’t, in which case, flour away.

I added a little more flour to it after this picture. But not much more. You’re going to incorporate the dough together with your hands. This step really unnerved me. The gnocchi dough is decidedly different than a traditional bread or pasta dough. I don’t have anything in my experience to compare it to. I kept thinking the dough wasn’t pulled together enough and that I wasn’t doing it right. This led to me yelling shrilly and frantically from the kitchen to S (who was manning the computer) “Does it say what does the consistency should be like? What is it supposed to feel like? Can you google? I think I’m effing this up… This can’t be right!” If you think these things while wrestling with any gnocchi dough know you are not alone.

Place dough on lightly floured surface and knead with the heel of your hand for 4-5 minutes. I had to incorporate a little more flour in this stage because the dough was still a little sticky. Cut into 4-6 pieces.

Using your fingertips, roll each section into a thin rope about 3/4 of an inch thick. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Cut the rope into 1 inch sections.

You know what the most frustrating part of making gnocchi is? The little stinking fork marks. I mean, seriously. Using the tines of a fork, you are supposed to be able to roll the gnocchi off the fork and have perfect marks. This did not happen for me. I ended up kind of mashing them on the fork and then trying to squish them back in a recognizable form. They look nice in the picture, but there were a good 30 minutes of me melodramatically decrying a fork-gnocchi conspiracy that would be the death of me.

Even though I only used 2 potatoes, I still had a substantial amount of gnocchi. I set a second tray in the freezer to cook later. Once frozen, I put them in a plastic bag (thanks for this tip too, Deb). This way I won’t have a bag of mush when I go to cook them.

Drop gnocchi into a pot of boiling, salted water. I was nervous and dropped them in one at a time. I realize this was completely ridiculous and I think you can probably just drop them in. Once the gnocchi start floating, continue to cook for an additional minute and drain.

I then sauteed mine in a simple sauce of butter, onions, garlic, mushrooms and white wine. I then topped with Parmesan cheese. Delicious. I was seriously shoveling these into my mouth at a most unladylike pace. S commented “they actually taste like gnocchi”, which I’m taking as pretty high praise. Lovely. I can’t wait to use this recipe again. I also saw some mentions of “ricotta gnocchi” in the midst of my recipe searching… I’m intrigued.

Pin this recipe on Pinterest: Pin It

-k

Did you know you can stuff just about anything in an Eggroll Wrapper? Italian Style.

So S (the bf) is always pushing to create fusion-ish recipes.  I won’t give away his trade secrets, but he has some verrrrry interesting pizza theories.  It was during one such conversation about possible combinations in which he threw out a pizza style/italian eggroll idea. “Why aren’t people making these kinds of things!?” “Who doesn’t love pizza, and who doesn’t love eggrolls!?” “It makes perfect sense!”

And the scary thing is…. it kind of does make perfect sense. 

So what were we to do but make some italian egg rolls?

1 package Egg Roll Wrappers (found in fresh vegetable section of most grocery stores)
1 pound ground beef
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 package pepperoni
2 cups Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1 cup Parmesan Cheese
1 Tbsp Italian Seasoning
1 egg

Note: You may need more or less cheese depending on how full you can get the eggrolls. I am a firm believer that the more cheese the better.

Brown ground beef, onion, garlic and Italian Seasoning together in a large saute pan. Make sure meat is thoroughly cooked with no sign of pink coloration.

Drain excess fat and grease and set aside.

Rough chop the pepperoni and mix with the beef. Originally, I tried to layer the pepperoni on the bottom and put the beef on top, but I found the consistency of the mix worked better.

Get out those egg roll wrappers.

Layer a little cheese on the bottom of the egg roll wrapper and top with a generous potion of meat. 

And then add a little more cheese on top for good measure.

Now folding the roll is much like making an envelope. Take the bottom corner and fold over the top of the filling.  Secure with a dab of beaten egg.  Then fold in the left and right corner, as tightly as possible. Again, secure with beaten egg. Finally, fold the top corner down and…. surprise! Secure with beaten egg!  I bet you didn’t even see that coming.  This is what it looks like:

Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until brown. Cut on the diagonal and serve with pizza sauce for dipping.

Also, let everyone know that you are a master of fusion foods.  You might as well, you’re making italian egg rolls after all.

Do I sound pretentious when I prounounce Bruchetta with a hard “k”?

So I had this recipe all ready to go: title written, photos uploaded and just needed to sit down and actually type the little sucker up. And then, last night, I had a dream that I was making bruschetta! So weird! In my dream I was on a competitive cooking tv show, and they gave us a couple of ingredients and we had to make a dish. I remember scoffing as I watched the other competitors and feeling absolute confidence in my recipe. Then somehow, we were all inVegas and going to the pool. Thus is life in dream world.

But I digress. I have long noticed the debate on the proper pronunciation of Bruschetta, and I ran it by a couple of people that had NEVER heard it pronounced with a hard “k” instead of broo-shetta… Well folks, turns out “k” is the way. Here’s a funny little rant on the topic from Inside Scoop San Fransisco:

How Do You Pronounce ‘Bruschetta’

**Update. I have spoken with another reliable source – my good friend Aly, who minored in Italian and has spent time there. No getting out of it, we’ve been wrong all this time. I may throw caution to the wind and actually start pronouncing it correctly… possibly. Either way, this post is hereby dedicated to Aly. 

Now let’s get to the good stuff! Ingredients (and as always, add more or less as you like. I don’t measure anything, so this is a rough estimate of what I used)

French or Sourdough Baguette, thinly sliced

2 Fresh Tomatoes

2/3 cup chopped fresh Basil

1/2 finely chopped (dare I say minced?) onion

Handful of Parmesan or Italian blend cheese

2 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar

Salt and Pepper to taste

This is another recipe where you chop it all up and mix it together. No rhyme or reason to it, but I recommend continually tasting to determine if you need to add more or less of a component.

To chop the basil, it’s easier if you layer the leaves and then roll them up and chop from one end.

I love onions. I can’t help it.

It was dark and rainy out, so the pictures didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked. Oh well, I’ve since invested in some extra lighting… But nothing will beat daylight for photography.

Don’t forget the cheese!

Now, slice the bread as thinly as you’d like and lightly toast in the oven. I actually did this during my assembly stage, but it only takes a couple of minutes and it’s easy to forget/burn. I only know because I’ve done it. More than once.

At parties, it works best if you keep the tomato mixture in a bowl and place the bread next to it, allowing people to dish up their own pieces. That way the bread doesn’t get soggy. Enjoy!

Homemade Pasta, I’m all over it.

When tackling a new and challenging cooking feat, it’s always good to start with a healthy level of confidence (read: beyond 10 seconds of googling “homemade pasta” I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing and have convinced myself I’m essentially an expert)

I’ve finally gotten a chance to wrestle the pasta monster. Had a bit of a ditzy speedbump when I doubled the flour and forgot to double the eggs, but surprisingly not bad. I looked through a lot of recipes to determine how to make the pasta and this is what I ended up with:

2 eggs for every one cup of flour, pinch of salt, and a dash of extra virgin olive oil.

Make a well in the flour and put the eggs in the middle. stir the eggs and gradually mix in the flour. I did this in a bowl because I didn’t trust myself with eggs running free. I think a lot of people do it directly on the counter. Knead the dough until it’s no longer tacky and roll out on a floured surface.

Here’s the thing. I don’t have a pasta roller. Kudos if you do, but this is going to take some muscle people. It took a lot longer than I thought it would and I would have preferred my noodles turned out thinner than they actually did. So heads up about that. Just keep rolling, just keep rolling.

I cut mine into long, thin strips, but cut as you will! Cook in boiling water for around 7-10 minutes or until desired tenderness.

Sauce recipes to follow!