Sunday, November 30, 2014

And the sauce shall have depth of flavor, and mystery.

This is a little culinary history. Well, a little of my culinary history.

I. In olden times. Back in the olden times, when I was a lass, and the Mormons had Primary during the week, my mother often left me in charge of dinner. Usually I had instructions. My mother made the best spaghetti sauce, which upon occasion I was asked to prepare. It was the sauce of the meaty variety--a bolognese, as some more sophisticated sorts may call it, but we called it spaghetti sauce and we liked it. It tasted dark and thoroughly cooked. There may have been a seasoning envelope, as folk were wont to use in those days. Or there may have been dried herbs in bottles. Whatever. The sauce was good. And the parmesan came in a green foil-wrapped cardboard dispenser.

II. The middle years. Back when I was a young person, I became a vegetarian. The meat sauce, she was no longer my gig. Instead, I assembled a variety of vegetables that made what I considered to be a pretty darn good sauce. It included chopped onion, garlic, mushroom, green pepper, and parsley, stewed in canned tomato sauce, or maybe bottled tomatoes that I had preserved myself. I loved this sauce. I would make it and give it away to people who had just had a baby, along with a loaf of french bread that I had also made myself. I thought this was clever and kind, because the sauce could be frozen and saved for a rainy day, when all the dinners had dried up and the baby was crying. I made this sauce for many, many years. I am still happy to make it, or something like it, to this very day.

III. The latter days. In which I learned to roast tomatoes, thereby creating an even greater depth of flavor, as the tomatoes took on a caramelized flavor from the roasting and the concentration of the sugars, etc. These tomatoes could be thawed and chopped and used as is, or they could be further stewed and made into a saucier sauce.

IV. A short note about noodles. Linguine, obviously. So suave. But also any of the long thin noodles. I am not a fan of fettucine. The broadness leads to uneven cooking. Maybe I'm impatient, which is why: linguine.

V. A short note about herbs. The advent of widely available fresh basil basically changed everything, of course, so much so that where, back in the middle years, I would move through a bottle of dried basil at a pretty good clip, now I don't have any dried basil in the house.

VI. A short note about chopped sauces. When it's summertime and the tomatoes are fat and luscious, it makes no sense to cook a sauce, to my mind. You just chop all the things that might go into the sauce, at a smallish dice, and put them on the hot noodles. They will melt a little and be the very glory of summer, especially if you have peaches for dessert.

VII. The sauce I made tonight. Tonight, my grandson gave me a call to see if there was something good cooking over at our house. 'We were actually going to eat leftovers,' I said, truthfully. My grandson said, 'Couldn't you make something better? Like pancakes?'

Or noodles, I thought. So I bestirred myself to seek the provisions of my house, to try to rustle up some sauce.

First: I had about a third of a packet each of four different kinds of pasta. So: mixed pasta. This requires some deft timing of when you add which kind of pasta to the boiling water. You'll be happy to know that you can cook penne and mini farfalle together, as long as you give the penne about a minute and a half headstart.

Second: no parsley, no basil, no peppers. I had an onion, several fresh-ish cloves of garlic, six small portobello mushrooms, and some greens.

I chopped the onion and garlic and began sautéing in olive oil. Then I chopped the mushrooms with haste and anxiety, since many in my family are not fans of mushrooms, but I planned to blend the sauce, so the mushrooms would not be in evidence. If anyone saw them, though, all bets would be off. I chopped the greens and added them to the pan. Then I took a big can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes and started blending.

My blender complained a little bit, but I kept adding tomatoes and a little water and giving it a little prod now and then, and we got a good, no-chunks sauce flecked with green. I put it back in the pan and added a little more water, then a nice sprig of rosemary for something a little sharp in the background.

My daughter and grandkids arrived. My daughter said, 'Mmm, it smells good in here!' Oh, good, I thought. 'Good!' I said.

A minute later, she said, 'Are there mushrooms in the sauce? It smells like mushrooms.' And I was all, Good Lord. And then, dear reader, I briefly lied. 'No,' I said. And then, maybe fifteen seconds later, I retracted: 'Okay, yes. But it's all blended!'

VII. A short note about the other time I lied about mushrooms in a pasta dish. One time, I lied about mushrooms in something or other, probably a lasagne. My son asked if there were mushrooms, and I pulled the same logical shenanigans. Later, my lie was revealed and he has not let me forget it. Perhaps the memory of this mushroom-oriented untruth is what made me repent so quickly tonight.

VIII. A short note on pickiness. Other people's pickiness evidently turns me into a liar. I wish, therefore, for the greater good and for the strength of my own character that people would not be so picky. That is all.

IX. A conversation about mushrooms in the sauce. Then we had a lengthy discussion about the whole flavor and scent of mushrooms and whether this person and/or that person could discern the mushroominess within the sauce. I myself love mushrooms, and I wanted the flavor to have an earthiness to it. And let's be honest here: I wanted to make a sauce that was more than tomatoes and dried oregano.

X. The verdict. And if I do say so myself, it was good.


  1. That's a-pretty-pretty good. I have a pasta history too, and I like reading yours and then thinking about mine. Thanks for the two pasta trips I just went on.

  2. I looooooooooooooove pasta sauces and as such I loved this post. My favorite version of my recipe was the version of my college years, when I would make a giant jar of a veggie and bacon sauce, put it in a mason jar and ration it out for my work night dinners. I lived the life, I tell you!

  3. I love a woman who is all about the suaveness of linguini.

  4. You and I deserve Vitamixes! Well, maybe just you because you are posting AND cooking.

  5. I love the way you write. I recognize that history of the sauce . . . though for me it is a severe case of oft felt, ne'er so well exprest. And I think it is a mark of maturity to enjoy the mushroom. I keep offering them up and hoping.



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