If you are a cyclist you’ve no doubt at one time or another become infatuated with Italy.
While I am a huge fan of the toughness that the Belgians bring to the road you can’t discount the fact that the Italians bring a lot of panache to the game. Stories about Eddy Mercxk’s devotion to the suffering and training required to be the greatest cyclist of all time are awe inspiring. But stories of Mario Cippolini stopping a training ride to buy exquisite Italian loafers or run off into the bushes with an Italian supermodel seem so much more fun.
And if you are a cyclist you have no doubt consumed more than your fair share of pasta. I think as a cycling collective our bucket list includes eating and riding your way across Italy. That’s what lottery tickets are for.
The Bald Biker household is an autonomous collective of five and that means that a lot of Sundays include batch cooking: making large amounts of food to be frozen and put into service quickly on a busy school/work night.
I’d like to share with you a recipe for a basic red sauce (Pomodoro) that has been pressed into service in a multitude of meals. It goes great all by itself with linguine, with penne and sausage, with spaghetti and meatballs and even as a pizza sauce.
I had been given a cookbook on pasta sauces as a Christmas gift many years ago and intentionally avoided trying to make a basic red sauce. The image of a 70-some year old Nonna in the back kitchen wielding mystical powers over tomatoes and whose sauce had touched generations of a family is plenty intimidating. Eventually I mustered up the courage to try my hand at it and now this sauce has become a staple in my household’s cooking.
At first I used the recipe to a “T” from the cookbook but cooking is a lot like jazz, the recipe holds the basic song structure and the cook improvises and puts her or her own spin on it.
Here’s my take on a Pomodori sauce in big batches, I hope you like.
What’s great about Italian cooking is that it’s really about using just a few, good quality ingredients and letting them shine. This recipe is a prime example of that.
This recipe has started off using the standard 28oz can of plum tomatoes but I got these wonderful San Marzano tomatoes in 100 oz cans at Costco and simply quadrupled the recipe. You’ll also need olive oil, 4 onions, garlic, salt and pepper, dried basil (optional) and red wine (also optional but it’s a great excuse to open a bottle of wine).
Sweatin’ to the Onions
The first step is to chop up your onions and garlic (you’re all big boys and girls, add garlic to taste) I used about 10 cloves in this big batch. Let’s just say we don’t have a vampire problem here anymore.
Heat your olive oil and add the onions and garlic.
*Tip – sweat the onions and garlic by cooking them for a few minutes with the lid on the pot. That retains moisture and your garlic own burn and turn bitter.
Sometimes I like to add a bit of red wine at this point….I also put some in the sauce. It can add a level of depth to the flavour.
Bring in Big Red
Add your tomatoes, I crush them with a wooden spoon to release all of the tomatoey goodness. Also add your salt and pepper to taste. If you’d like to add some dried basil go right ahead, this is where I would do that.
*Tip – if you are using dried basil, rub it between your hands to break it open and release the oils and flavours.
Let the sauce cook on medium to high heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occaisionally. Monitor your heat so it doesn’t burn on the bottom of your pot. San Marzano tomatoes have a fair amount of sugar and you have to keep an eye on that.
Time to Get Smooth
After 20 minutes of cooking down, check your seasonings and adjust if needed. Now it’s time to get that big, lumpy pot of goodness into a more useable state. The original recipe I used had recommended passing the sauce through a food mill but who has time for that. I use a simple hand held immersion blender and get the sauce to a consistency that I like. You may like it smooth and silky, I prefer a bit of texture to it, I want to know I’ve got some pieces of onion and garlic in there. Your choice.
You may want to cook it down a little bit more or serve it from there. The more you cook it down, the more intense the flavour gets.
As I had mentioned the basic sauce is the backbone for a lot of dishes. Here I’ve added to spaghetti and some lovely meatballs I made with my daughter, I’ll share that recipe in a future post.
Because a 100 oz. can of tomatoes can make enough sauce to feed an entire peleton or large, Italian family gathering we’ve found a convenient way to store it all that doesn’t take up a lot of space.
Once the sauce has cooled, we use Zip Lock (yes I am entertaining corporate sponsorship offers) freezer bags and portion out 5 personal portions per bag. The bags can be laid flat in a deep freeze and take up much less space than a Tupperware container. On a work night that we will be using the sauce, we simply take a bag out of the freezer in the morning and let it thaw on a plate on the counter. When you get home you can heat the sauce in the same amount of time it takes to cook a plate of pasta.
It’s a versatile and easy to make sauce and I hope you enjoy putting your spin on it.
Until next time, ride to eat and eat to ride!