There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love?
– M. F. K. Fisher, The Gastronomical Me, pub. 1943
I dream of vacations and I dread them. Call me a glass-half-full kinda guy who thanks God that he has a glass. We just got back from our week-long vacation at the unique Fort Worden in N.W. Washington – right next to wonderful little Port Townsend. We vacationed with five other families, stayed in the same building (the old nurses’ quarters), and let the kids rule the roost (for the most part). We also took turns with each family (actually two families at a time) cooking a dinner for everyone else. When our turn came we decided on pasta. Here’s the basic low-down:
Cooking for 25+ can be a bit daunting. I figured I needed to start early – the sauces were my contribution. I knew we had a lot of different tastes to accommodate, so I chose to do both a red sauce and a white sauce. Most of the ingredients were purchased at Aldrich’s Market which, if you’re ever in Port Townsend, I would recommend you get your groceries there – or at the Food CO-OP, my other fave grocery in P.T. One of my biggest concerns was the kitchen we had available in our rooms at Fort Worden. Since we brought none of our own cookware, we were at the mercy of what was available. Fortunately, we had what we needed, even though lack of familiarity with a kitchen can throw off a cook.
A Lusty Red Sauce (for the strong and tender hearted)
The key to cooking a good, thick, dark, meaty red sauce is time. Certainly the ingredients are critical, but there are many variations that will lead to excellent results, but time – as in, letting the sauce simmer for a long time – is key. What follows is about half of what I made for the group.
Ingredients (I love reading recipes and the listing of the ingredients is the best part):
- Note: buy organic if at all possible. I like to believe the food tastes better, but I know that we can all do with less chemicals applied tot he planet.
- 1 typical can/jar of red sauce (I like to start simple, so this is partially semi-homemade)
- 1 large can of diced tomatoes (if you want to peel and dice them yourself, go ahead, I applaud)
- 1 small can of tomato paste
- 1 large yellow onion
- a 1/2 bunch of fresh basil
- A bunch of mushrooms (you decide the amount and the kind)
- 4 to 8 large garlic cloves
- 1/2 lb of ground beef
- 1/2 lb of thick-sliced bacon
- 1/2 lb of sweet Italian sausage links
- Red wine (Cabernets or Zinfandels are good choices)
- Balsamic vinegar
- Sugar – anywhere from a couple of tablespoons to a half cup, depending on your preference for sweet sauces. The kids like the sweet.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt
- Fresh ground pepper
- Whole Olives
- Red or Yellow bell peppers (roasted, peeled, and diced)
Throw the red sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, a couple tablespoons of the balsamic, about a cup or more of the red wine, the basil (torn or chopped up), and the sugar in a big pot and bring it to bubbling, then turn down the heat a bit and let it simmer. The rest of the wine is for the cook. Additional bottles will be opened for the guests. Chop the onion into thick chunks and toss in a frying pan. Do the same with the mushrooms and add them to the onion. The point here is to get the onion and mushrooms pre-cooked a bit before going in the sauce. When you feel they are softened enough add them to the sauce and stir in. Chop the garlic and place in the frying pan with plenty of olive oil. Sauté on low heat. It’s easy to burn garlic and the goal is to mellow it out while retaining what is best about garlic, so cook it on lower heat than you think, and let it sit there a while. When the garlic begins to look somewhat translucent, but before it turns brown, add it to the sauce. Then chop up the bacon, cook it (not crispy) and toss it in the sauce. Slice up the Italian sausage and do the same. Then cook up the ground beef and add it to the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Now here’s the clincher: Let the sauce simmer on low or med-low for at least three hours. If the sauce begins to thicken too much (due to evaporation) add more wine. Also, I like to add 2 to 6 tablespoons of olive oil to the sauce as well – gives it an additional hearty yum factor.
Let each individual ladle how much sauce they want over the pasta noodles. Penne is a good choice for noodles, but experiment with whatever noodles you think will work. Invariably your guests will take a medium amount at first because they are not quite sure if they will like such a hearty sauce – especially if they are used to the typical weak sauces so frequently served up. But then they will go back to seconds, maybe thirds, praise you, praise you again, and then find a comfortable place on the couch to finish of their second or third glass of red wine with inspired conversation.
Note: I do not emphasize specific amounts for the ingredients very much. This is a sauce “to taste” and I think it is very personal. All food should be personal and should reflect the personality of the cook as well as something of our humanity. This sauce is clearly a “heavy” sauce and is not at all the same as the wonderful light tomato sauces common in Italy (so I have read and tried to duplicate). I say BE BOLD in your sauces – and make no apologies!
A Transcendent White Sauce (for the young, the gracious, and the wise)
This sauce is so simple and so essentially perfect that, in order for it to go badly, one has to purposely set about to make a ruin of it. And like the red sauce above, this sauce is designed to be made “to taste” to suite the personality of the cook.
- 4 to 8 large cloves of garlic
- 1 pint of heavy whipping cream
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb of turkey apple sausage links (or similar mild/sweet sausages)
- Shredded Parmesan cheese
- Sea salt (to taste)
- Fresh ground pepper (to taste)
Again, go with good quality ingredients – it’s worth it.
Peel and slice the garlic (do not crush the garlic or use a garlic press) as thin as possible – use a sharp knife. Place the garlic in a frying pan with a generous amount of olive oil. Sauté the garlic on low heat for as long as you can without it turning brown (sometimes this can take 30+ minutes on really low heat). Because garlic will burn quite easily it must be watched – so put on some good music, fill your glass with wine and stay near the stove.
Slice up the sausages and sauté them until they are well cooked – even a little crisp around the edges. Just at the moment before the garlic turns brown from the heat add the heavy whipping cream, the sausages, the sea salt, and the fresh ground pepper. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Then turn the heat down to a good simmer. Stir occasionally and let it cook down until it thickens up quite a bit – this could take 20 to 30+ minutes, even an hour.
I have never had this sauce burn, but I suppose it could, so check it frequently. When done pour over freshly cooked pasta (I like bowtie for this one), add Parmesan, toss, and serve immediately.
Bread and wine are critical ingredients for living well, so my experience tells me. We provided fabulous bread (plus olive oil & balsamic, and some fine cheeses) for the crew from a wonderful little local bakery in Port Townsend called Pane D’Amore. The wine and cheeses came from Aldrich’s.
When I walked in to Pane D’Amore I waited in line, and when it came time to order I said I wanted a loaf of Cibatta, a baguette (French, not sourdough), and an Olive loaf. When I was handed my order the woman said it was rare for anyone to know exactly what they wanted. Oddly enough, here is a funny (not exactly intentionally funny) little video report about the bakery:
I’m rarely any good at getting through life, especially when it comes to loving people and being friendly. I can get downright grumpy at times. But one thing I love to do is cook for others. I don’t have many recipes in my bag of tricks, but these two I’ve had some good success with. Never do they turn out exactly as they have done before, but each time they seem to always please the palate and make people glad they came to dinner. Try them for yourself and let me know how they turn out and if if those you serve it too don’t also praise you for ability to raise the pasta bar just a little.
Also, I have made this blog primarily about cinema, but I find that I have the desire to write about food as well – and maybe other things too. Let me know what you think. Personally, I think good movies and good food make a nice combo.