Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Basic Tomato Sauce: Version 2.0; Ricotta Gnocchi: Why Gnot?

This is V2.0 for several reasons: the tomatoes are fresh, a blender or puree process is included, tomato paste has been added for richness, and a splash of red wine has been added. The formula is quick and rustic, with no exact science to the chopping or amount of ingredients. Let your tastes and application for the sauce guide you. I was inspired to post this by a dear and lovely friend of know who you are! You better get to cookin' this sauce!

You can easily leave the sauce chunky, but I find that the skins on fresh tomatoes are a bit tough. To get around this (and in my book, an excuse to roughly chop) I blend my sauce either pre-simmer with a blender, or use my immersion blender mid-simmer. You could easily use, as I describe below, a mashing tool for a more chunky sauce.

 If using canned tomatoes, the tough-skin dilemma does not exist. I typically use either whole crushed or diced tomatoes. If you can find the San Marzano variety from Italy, splurge and purchase them for a more authentically Italian flavor. Fresh herbs or dried work here, just suit to the season and your tastes. I like to use a combination of dried and fresh in mine, and I love to put in a hefty amount of fresh basil when it is in season. Parsley, being a more hearty herb, can be purchased during any season at a dirt-cheap price, so I recommend that you include fresh parsley regardless.

Gorgeous tomatoes! These are from my Dad's garden, and the basil is from my farmer's market.
A well executed tomato sauce is a basic kitchen staple, and everyone must have their own "formula". A good tomato sauce recipe will grow with you, and can be adapted according to your mood and what the season gives you (i.e. I recommend using canned tomatoes in the dead of winter as opposed to the flavor-less orbs of red in your grocery! At least we have comfort knowing that our processors adhered to the strict guidelines of the Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 1, Subchapter B, Title 21, Part 113. Although this is for low-acid foods, it is still a good reference. I suggest any foodie get acquainted with what our Government declares as a-OK to put in our food here, if you dare.
although not the first choice, of course, the packing plant did process the fruit at the peak of freshness during the harvest...or that is what I tell myself!).

The sauce can be used fresh, or frozen for future uses (it will last about 1 week in the fridge, or up to 3 months in a well sealed container in the freezer). You can use it for pasta, or try adding some cream and vodka for a quick penne alla vodka. Use it for pizza, calzones, or for dipping your favorite bread. Really, the options are endless with a decent sauce. Thin it out with redwine or stock, or make it thicker with more simmering or additional tomato paste. This stuff is very flexible! Let your imagination run wild...

If you have some time, I recommend making some gnocchi or pasta to taste your creation...and for fun, I have included a ricotta gnocchi recipe as well. Delicioso!

Note: the recipe below can easily be scaled up. Making a larger batch and freezing it is ideal! I based the measurements on 1 large (approximately 32 ounces) can of whole crushed or diced tomatoes, or equal volume (4 cups, or 32 ounces) of fresh chopped tomatoes.

Tomato Sauce
Makes enough sauce (approximately 4 cups) for one recipe of gnocchi below, which could easily feed 4 hungry people.

1 part fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped to equal about 4 cups
OR, 1 32 ounce can of whole crushed or diced tomatoes
2-4 cloves garlic, smashed or roughly chopped
1/3 cup onion, roughly chopped
1 large pinch (about 1 TB) dried herbs of any combination (I always use oregano, basil, fennel seeds)
2 TB tomato paste
1 cup liquid, such as red wine or vegetable stock
1 TB, or a generous drizzle, of extra virgin olive oil or a pat of butter
1 large handful, or about 1/2 cup roughly torn or chopped parsley and/or fresh basil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Medium sized sauce pot (or larger if scaling recipe up) with a heavy bottom and NOT non-stick
Cutting board and knife
Blender, Immersion Blender (the hand-held kind) OR
Mashing device: potato masher, pastry cutter, fork

For the blender method, if you are feeling rushed or lazy: in the blender vessel, throw in the tomatoes, whole garlic cloves, chopped onion, tomato paste, olive oil, fresh and/or dried herbs, salt and pepper. Pulse to blend to desired consistency-although I find that it is difficult to not puree it all with this method.

Transfer to the sauce pot, and turn on the heat to medium-high.  Add the liquid in the form of red wine or stock. Now, cover, bring to a good simmer. Once a simmer is reached, turn the heat to low, partially un-cover or remove the lid fully to allow the sauce to reduce. Taste as it thickens, adjusting the seasonings and consistency as you see fit.

I love the pink-color that the sauce takes on when it is blended; the air bubbles created when blending lightens up the color, but as the bubbles settle out, the sauce will be the typical deep-red.
For the immersion blender or mashing method: place the sauce pot on medium heat, and add the drizzle of oil. Toss in the smashed garlic cloves and onion, heat until fragrant and soft. Then add the remaining ingredients. Cover, bring to a good simmer over medium-high heat. Then, turn the heat to low, and remove or partially remove the lid to allow the ingredients to soften, about 30 minutes. Then, remove the pot from the heat, and mash with your mashing tool. Or, use an immersion blender, and blend to desired consistency. Return the sauce to low heat, either partially covered or un-covered, and allow to reduce. Taste as the sauce cooks, adjusting seasoning as you go. Note: if using the mashing tool, you will have a more rustic sauce with larger chunks of onion and garlic.

Once the sauce is done, you can cool to room temperature and package for freezer. Or, you can use it right away for some delicious gnocchi.....:

Ricotta Gnocchi
Makes enough for 4 generous servings, or 6 as a side

14 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) ricotta or ricotta con latte (whole milk if using the con latte type*)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose, un-bleached flour
Additional flour for rolling and storing
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon sea salt (or, 1/2 teaspoon regular table salt)
3 TB butter (optional, for browning)

*Ricotta means "re-cooked" in Italian. The reasoning is this: ricotta cheese is made from the whey that is left over from cooking or making other cheese from the curd. Ricotta is possible due to the heat and acid (pH) sensitive albumin proteins that are abundant in whey. Hooray! Many "ricotta" products that we have access to are typically not traditional ricotta (i.e. the product is made form milk or has milk added, hence the "con latte" verbiage).

large bowl
wooden spoon
measuring cups and spoons
fork, box grater, microplane or cheese/zest grater of some sort
knife or bench scraper
tea towel
baking sheet
parchment paper, wax paper or aluminum foil
large pot
large, heavy bottomed pan, such as cast iron
slotted spoon

First, prepare a landing-pad for the dumplings: line a baking sheet with your lining of choice, and sprinkle generously with flour.

Now, in the large bowl, scoop the ricotta and mix a bit until loosened. Add the yolks and salt, mix thoroughly. Add the flour, and mix until a semi-stiff dough forms. This will take a few minutes, however, be sure to not over-mix. If you do, it is not a deal-breaker: your dumplings may be a bit tougher, but fear not, they will still be delicious.

Flour a clean work surface, and scoop out the dough. Sprinkle a light coating of flour on the dough and your hands...

form the dough into a roughish-ball shape, picking up the dough to make sure it is not sticking to the work surface. Add some more flour under the dough if you need to. Now, cover with a towel or some plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes. Or, wrap it more securely, and refrigerate up to 24 hours.

After the dough has rested, it is time to form and "mark" the gnocchi. If refrigerated, take the dough  come up to room temperature to aid in forming. However, a slightly cool dough makes rolling a bit easier. Divide the dough into 4 pieces, then roll each on a floured surface into a 1" diameter log. It may help to also flour your hands a bit! Using a bench scraper or sharp knife, cut 1/2" dumplings.

Now, you will "mark" your dumplings. This process is entirely optional, but it helps sauce cling. Using a fork, or a tool noted above in "equipment", gently roll each dumpling across grooves or tines (see below). I really do not think there is an exact "science" behind this process, and it does not need to be perfect.
Aren't they cute?
Toss the finished gnocchi onto your prepared sheet tray, and allow to rest for a few minutes. Or, you could also refrigerate up to overnight, just wrap the tray securely to prevent drying. Give the sheet a shake to help coat each dumpling with flour to prevent sticking.

To cook, bring a large pot of water to boil with a large pinch of salt-it should taste like the sea. Add 1/3-ish of the gnocchi at a time. The dumplings will raise to the top of the water, then from this point, cook them for 3-5 minutes, until firm. Taste for texture after 3, and add more time if you want a more firm texture.

With a slotted spoon, transfer to a strainer placed in your sink if near your cook-top, or over a large bowl to catch the excess water. Shake to rid extra water.

To brown (again, completely optional, but worth every minute): in a large pan, preferably cast iron, melt the 3 TB butter over medium-high heat. All foaming should subside before placing gnocchi in the pan; the butter is not hot enough for browning when foam is present. Brown the dumplings in batches, turning as they cook-be sure to not over-crowd or else you will get more of a steaming action than drying/browning. Once browned to your desired color, add them to your homemade sauce (remember, one recipe of the formula above makes enough for 1 recipe of the gnocchi) that has been heated in a medium sized sauce pan. Heat together for a few minutes to blend flavors, then serve with grated parmesan, fresh basil...whatever you want! Mangia Bene!

1 comment:

  1. I'm trying this tonight! Thanks for the non-blender sauce instructions for inadequately prepared chefs like myself. ;)