Monday, February 23, 2009

Basic Tomato Sauce

There are just some recipes that every cook should know. These are a cook's 'go to' recipes that can be whipped up in your sleep to rave reviews. I make a mean flank steak and salmon bulgogi, but sometimes I forget about simpler dishes. Since spaghetti is such a weeknight mainstay, one of the first things I should have learned to make was tomato sauce. I used to pick up any jar of sodium-laden red sauce but never again!

Tomato sauce and spaghetti dishes never used to wow my tastebuds. I've never dreamt of the perfect bologonese. This recipe changed all that. It may change your life too. It changed Adam Roberts' life after all, just read the first chapter of his book. Try it and you too will be a believer in tomato sauce. This recipe comes from Mario Batali but you don't need any fancy Iron Chef technique to make it. Just simmer and stir. It makes a lot of sauce so store it up in jars, freeze it, keep it in the refrigerator for a week.

Basic Tomato Sauce
Mario Batali's Babbo Cookbook

1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely shredded
2 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes (I buy fire roasted for added flavor)
1 tblsp dried thyme (or 3 tblsp fresh)
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pot heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once hot, add the onion and cook until just beginning to brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or until fragrant. Add the carrot and thyme and cook a minute more. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and combine everything together -- scraping up any bits off the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil and stir often. Reduce to a low simmer and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. It should reduce quite a bit and get very thick. Finally, season with salt and pepper. If you prefer a smooth sauce, blend the sauce in batches. Add meat for a meat sauce or mushrooms, peppers, etc to be ladled over your pasta dish.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

How to: Wine and Cheese

I just hosted my first wine and cheese party to great success. I have mild knowledge of wine but zero knowledge of cheese. This little event forced me to learn quite a bit about cheese. It always helps to find a good cheese monger to help you even more with this task. I ventured to Winter Park's Cheese Shop of Park for some expert help. The husband and wife team really know their stuff and everything is easily tasted and cut to your liking. In addition, I was able to pick up large portions of five different cheeses for a very reasonable price. Check out the Cheese Shop on Park if you're ever in the Orlando area.

Things to Keep in Mind:
1 How many guests do you anticipate?
It is recommended that you allow least 1 oz. to taste per person.

2 What are the cheese preferences of your guests?
Some people have an aversion for stinky cheeses, blue, or goat. Keep this in mind and pick milder varieties that the majority will enjoy.

3 What are the wine preferences of your guests?
Do they mainly drink whites/reds? Do they prefer California wines? In general, pick lighter-bodied wines that will not overwhelm the cheese or the palate.

Five Rules of Thumb:
1 Pick no more than 4 cheeses. It is easy to want to try a half a dozen cheeses but too many can easily overwhelm the palate and take away from the whole experience.

2 Always serve cheese at room temperature. This allows the cheese to soften and the flavors to fully ripen.

3 Regions normally go together. If a wine is from France and a cheese is from France, they are more likely to complement one another. There is obviously some exception here.

4 Acidic cheeses tend to go with acidic wines. Buttery cheeses tend to go with wines of the same taste and texture. Hard, saltier cheeses go best with robust and fruity reds. Stinkier cheeses can be mellowed with sweeter whites like Riesling or Sauternes.

5 There is no single wine that will pair with every cheese. If you had to only pick two, I would suggest a Gerwuztraminer and a fruity Cab or Bordeaux.

Here are the cheeses we sampled served with a Napa Cabernet and a South African Chardonnay crisp with green apple.

Saint Andre Triple Crème (France) Made from fresh cow’s milk and enriched with pure cream. Bloomy white edible rind, soft creamy center. Rich and buttery.

Combozola Blue Brie (Germany) Another triple crème from Bavaria that is like a marriage of Camembert and Gorgonzola (hence the name). Mild and creamy, spreadable even, with a flavorful rind.

Prima Donna (Holland) A cow's milk cheese made in the style of a gouda. Wonderfully nutty with a crunchy, crumbly texture.

Piave (Northern Italy) A cow's milk cheese named after the Piave River. Full-bodied and reminiscent of Parmigiano Reggiano but maybe even better. Went incredibly well with white truffle honey!

Pecorino Al Tartufo (Italy) A young sheep's milk cheese that is much softer than the aged pecorino most are accustomed to. Speckled with black truffles which accompany the buttery texture.