Hubby D and I were driving home from our place at Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks when my cell phone rang. It was my good friend E, who along with her husband J, have a successful year-round catering business, mostly weddings, bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs for their St. Louis Jewish clients. During the spring, summer, and fall, city residents J and E also plant and harvest veggies on their small farm across the river in Illinois. Which explains the purpose of E’s phone call.
“I got you some tomatoes,” she said. “Green bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash too. Stop by the shop on your way home.” The shop would be the industrial-size catering kitchen where E and J were finishing up the preparations for a small party of forty—barbecued ribs, cole slaw, potato salad among other items. All food I knew to be awesome, having tasted it often enough—most recently at their Fourth of July gathering for one hundred and fifty relatives, friends, and friends of friends. Where else but at their Illinois farm surrounded by its white rail fencing and boasting a pond filled with catfish, crappie, and bass.
The rains came and stayed that July holiday. Not a problem for J and E; they’d set up tables and chairs under a huge tent and in their charming barn decorated with antique hand-held farm implements. Live music played throughout the afternoon and evening, encouraging a number of guests to join in the line dancing.
Talk about a Soul Food buffet to whet the most diverse of appetites. This one started out with artichoke dip, three other dips I didn’t sample, super-sized hot dogs, lamb chops with mint jelly, cold shrimp with cocktail sauce, plus assorted crackers and snacks. All of which got washed down with J’s secret-recipe peach tea, any kind of soda, wine and cold beer that kept two bartenders hopping from early afternoon until well after dark.
I’d barely patted the appetizer crumbs from my mouth when guests started lining up for the main courses. As near as I can recall, the spread included mixed green salad, potato salad, cole slaw, green beans, corn on the cob, baked beans, mac’n cheese, spaghetti, crudité assortment, barbecued ribs, fried chicken, roasted goat, roasted pig, grilled squirrel, raccoon, quail, and rabbit, plus deep-fried catfish, blue gill, and crappie. It had been years since I tasted squirrel so that I had to try—not bad. Somehow I inadvertently overlooked the raccoon and rabbit—dang!
Was there no end to the array of desserts? For me it began and ended with the white cake covered with butter cream and coconut icing, the same goodie I choose at every J and E gathering.
Anyway, back to E’s gift of garden produce. As soon as I got settled at home, I sliced most of the green peppers into strips and froze them. The pepper ends I chopped into chunks to combine with tomatoes and sweet onions and then marinate in Italian salad dressing. The tomatoes I left sitting on my kitchen counter; the squash and zucchini I refrigerated. Phew! Done. Or so I thought.
The phone rang. E again. She’d finished prepping food at the shop and was now at the farm, picking produce before the impending storm. “I got you some more tomatoes,” she said. “Green ones, as big as softballs lying on the ground and too heavy to tie up. Red ones too. Come get them at my house in St. Louis tomorrow.”
Sigh. Yes, it’s that time of the year again, which means I’ll be making multiple batches of marinara sauce, just as I’ve done in the past. Here’s my basic recipe, one that can be enhanced with a bit of creativity.
Loretta Giacoletto’s No-fuss Marinara Sauce
Wash, core and stem about 14 medium-size ripe tomatoes (about 14 cups, any variety), cut into small pieces. Plan on using the seeds, juice, and pulp—no need to peel. Hey, that’s where all the flavor comes from.
Heat ½ C extra virgin olive oil in a large, heavy-bottom stainless steel pot over medium heat.
Add and sauté over low heat:
2 C chopped onions until translucent, lightly sprinkle with sea salt
Add and sauté over low heat:
1 C chopped carrots and
1 C chopped celery (again, lightly sprinkle with sea salt)
Add chopped tomatoes, pulp, seeds, and juice to pot.
Increase heat to bring to boil, then turn down heat and allow to simmer for about one hour or until reduced to half the original contents.
While simmering contents, add chopped basil and/or parsley and oregano. My herbs come fresh from my garden, which is not to say I wouldn’t use dried herbs if that happened to be my only choice.
Important, if you prefer a smooth sauce (which I do): Using a hand-held emulsifier or hand mixer, blend all ingredients together until smooth. Simmer for another five minutes. Done!
For a chunky sauce, don’t bother with blending. Either way, season to taste with salt and pepper, if necessary.
This recipe will make about 9 cups of sauce. Use sauce with pasta or as a base for meat dishes.
To preserve for later use, allow sauce to cool. Spoon about 3 cups into each of three quart-size freezer bags, flatten contents to release excess air, and freeze until ready to use.
Note: Larger batches will require longer cooking time.
How about you? Any cooking tips for marinara sauce you’d like to share?