Since Jay and I had engagements the evening of the solstice, I decided to make a summer inspired meal on Sunday. We had a gigantic bag of fresh basil from the CSA and an even larger bag of green beans. An early morning trip to the neighborhood farmers market presented us with plump, vibrant, just-picked tomatoes. Add some of my fresh Vidalia onions to this and it was the perfect start for some serious sauce.
First, however, we need a bit of background on my love for sauce. I grew up eating my Mom’s classic homemade sauce that was rich, thick and laden with fresh ground pepper. She had her recipe down to a fine art – two cans of sauce, one can of tomato paste, a palm of this, a pinch of that, and then so many turns of the pepper grinder that your arm cramps. It was a sauce that was second to none and set the bar ridiculously high when we would eat out. Mom has said many times “I just can’t order sauce out anymore because nothing beats mine.” And I agreed.
Once in college Mom passed her old crock pot me, and her sauce recipe. I shamelessly used this recipe to woo many friends and dates into thinking I could cook – which was a HUGE lie in those days (just ask my friend Karen). As I matured I learned more about cooking and, much to Mom’s dismay, I began tinkering with her sauce. I tried new seasonings, different olives and various peppers. The only thing that stayed the same was Mom’s ratio of canned sauce to canned tomato paste.
My obsession with eating fresh, natural foods has lead Jay and I to give up many of our canned staples – and that includes tomatoes and sauce. I had no idea how this would revolutionize my sauce experience! Below follows my recipe for “Fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce with Caramelized Onions.” Be warned, you may never open another can of sauce!
5 Vidalia onions, peeled, sliced in half and then sliced into long strips
1.5 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon vegan butter, or regular butter
Heat the butter and olive oil over medium high heat in a large, flat-bottomed heavy skillet. Once the oil mixture is very hot, add your onions. Use a pair of tongs and toss the onions to coat. Continue to cook, tossing the entire time, for the next 10 minutes or until they begin to turn translucent and reduce in size a bit.
Once they are looking like regular old sautéed onions, add:
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of sugar
Lower the heat a tad and continue to cook, stirring every few minutes, for another 35 minutes. The onions will begin to turn brown and smell very sweet. Keep them moving and browning and they will reduce in size substantially.
Begin prepping the other ingredients while still tossing the onions every few minutes. Mince 4 cloves of very fresh garlic. Do not, under any circumstances, use that yucky pre-minced stuff in a jar.
Chop 6 to 7 large, brilliantly red, vine-ripened tomatoes.
Onions? Don’t forget to toss them. I tossed in between each chopping each tomato.
Next, slice a ton of basil into ribbons, or Chiffonade if you prefer the fancy term. You need about one cup plus some to garnish. See here for the best way to make basil ribbons.
Now clean up all your chopping mess. Check your onions. Are they a rich caramel color? Do they smell heavenly? Has your significant other shown up in the kitchen to see what this amazing scent is? If not, they need a bit longer – go wash some dishes.
Once your onions are the right color, taste one. I hope you are blown away by their amazingness.
Next! Push all the onions to the sides of the pan making a nice clear circle for your garlic. Lower the heat a bit and sauté your garlic for two to three minutes, until fragrant.
Then add all those chopped tomatoes and give it all a good stir. Add another pinch of salt and another pinch of sugar and some black pepper (just some – this is not my Mom’s peppery sauce).
My sauce looked like it needed a little liquid so I used what I had on hand – four tablespoons of Two Buck Chuck Chardonnay! It gave just enough liquid to get the sauce simmering. Cover your sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, take out your bag of fresh green beans and snap them to your desired length. Start two pots of water boiling – one for noodles and one for beans.
After 20 minutes add your cup of basil ribbons to the sauce and give it a couple good stirs. Let your sauce cook uncovered for another 10 minutes.
Start your pasta in pot No. 1 and toss your beans into pot No. 2. Let the beans cook for only three minutes! They should be bright green in color but still crisp and fresh tasting. Remove them promptly and season as you wish – I added red wine vinegar, garlic powder and salt.
Then drain your pasta and plate up your feast – pasta topped with a generous portion of sauce and green beans on the side. Garnish both with some more basil ribbons. No cheese is required for this meal – enjoy the flavors of the onions, tomatoes and basil.
I know I promised the bread recipe, too. That will follow in a few days as this post is plenty long without it.
In the meantime I urge you all to head to your local farmers market this weekend and bring home something fresh, ripe and locally grown. If you feel adventurous, and have two hours to kill, try my sauce and report back! This is my first cooking post and I’m eagerly awaiting feedback – did you make this sauce better? Did I give a crappy instruction? Was it perfect and left your significant other asking why you don’t cook like this every night? I can’t wait to hear from you!