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Summer Sauce...

Just a sampling of the harvest from the gardens at the Alamo. This is my recipe for some kick-ass sauce for those of us who aren’t blessed with Italian heritage!

It is the waning days of summer here on the North Coast. That time of year when the anticipation of long lazy days spent stretched out under the umbrella with a cold brew in hand have given way to the pressure of the Labor Day Holiday, elections for me and commencement of all things rushed and busy.

Still, there’s the garden to tend. And the of harvest. This year, in a fit of poor planning, I planted a wall of cucumbers that seem to have taken over and already there are eight cans of pickles naturally fermenting on the shelf.

I like pickles. But that’s more than anyone can hope to eat in a whole year, and my idea of getting pickeled has a lot more to do with Irish Whiskey than it does vinegar.

It’s the tomatoes though that I am most excited about. Because one of my favorite things to do in an effort to make it through the long cold winter is to make Sunday Sauce. And while my Italian comrades would fdouble over in fits of laughter at my suggestion that my concoction rates being called that – their grandmother’s recipes being as sacred as the good book itself — I will say that mine has passed the taste test of not a few Italian grandmothers.

I can’t really say that my Mother taught me to cook.

And though many’s the hour I spent perched on the red plastic covered step stool next to the stove watching her prepare dinner with me asking a million questions, they were rarely about the food itself.

But I can without hesitation say that she inspired me to expertise in this as in all things.

She was big on me being able to cook my own meals, iron my own shirts, and do my own laundry.

“Someday, your wife will love you much more if you can do these things and don’t condemn her to kitchen drudgery,” she would say over and over – or at least some version of it. And, while wives have been generally in short supply for me throughout my life, she turned out to be right.

My father was sort of a meat and potatoes guy. His idea of dinner was boiled potatoes; some sort of meat … meatloaf was a favorite … and a vegetable – preferably green beans. In fact, following my flight from the nest, I can’t remember eating plain, peeled, white boiled potatoes since.

One exception he made was that he would eat spaghetti, particularly if there was a pork chop or two in the sauce to liven it up. And while I’m not really sure where my Mother got the recipe. (I have her recipe file, but there’s no mention of sauce anywhere in it) it was pretty darn tasty.

I do know that it smelled good, filling the house with aromas and flavors that made even my father get excited for dinner. And I remember that for some odd reason, she usually decided to cook it on the any one of the hottest days of the year.

I learned to make my sauce recipe not from her, but from stealing little dribs and drabs from people like Carla Palumbo whose sauce is famous throughout the ROC. (Rochester to the uninitiated.) But like any good Italian Cook – the real secret is hidden in great grandma’s kitchen and passed on only to true bloods of which I am not.

But what that means is that I get to tell you my recipe … and the secret that goes into it – without any guilt or mystery.

During the dog days of summer, I like to spend some of the slight spare time I have tending my small gardens here on the North Coast. And, in my self-imposed exile, I have expanded them exponentially to include not only a tiny vineyard (still a few years from producing) as well as the beginnings of a substantial strawberry patch.

One of my favorite things to grow are Tomatoes and I have branched out, so to speak to some more “exotic” varieties this year in anticipation of the delicious sauce I will be making as the harvest begins.

I cook some kick-ass sauce, even if I do say so myself. And, fresh tomatoes can make even a lousy recipe turn incredible!

So if you too are looking at the garden wondering just what you will do with the mounds of tomatoes, take heart. This recipe is guaranteed to taste like you too have an Italian grandmother, even if your are Irish-Japanese. LOL

An important note: I use fresh tomatoes when they are in season, but I use the canned stuff the rest of the year. There’s no sense in using the red bulbous crap that most supermarkets pawn off as “tomatoes” in the off-season. They’re flavorless, have the texture of an old foam rubber pillow, and not the worth the effort.

First thing to do is to get the tomatoes out of the fridge. Believe it or not, it is the worst place to store them. Screws up their ripening and turns them FASTER!

Am assuming you have a fairly big pot to do this in, that you have around 12 to 15 or 17 average sized tomatoes (more if you are using plum tomatoes) and that you are carnivores.

Ingredients:

  • Olive Oil

  • Couple of Bone-in Porkchops

  • 8 to 12 Oz Chuck Steak Cut into two or three pieces

  • 12 Oz Can of Tomato Paste

  • A nice big Spanish Onion, chopped

  • A few stalks of celery, chopped

  • A red or green Pepper if you have one

  • A Couple of Organic Carrots Chopped  and (from the market if you can gt them so they don’t taste like cardboard) Otherwise I leave them out

  • couple cloves of garlic

  • Teaspoon Oregano

  • Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes

  • Tablespoon of Basil

  • Salt and Pepper

  • 1 Bay Leaf

  • A teaspoon of sugar if you have it to cut the acidity

  • Couple Tablespoons of Fresh Parsley

  • And Now the SECRET ingredient: 2 maybe 3 medium sized whole pickled Perpporoncini’s

  • Oh, and Red Wine – anything from Chianti to Cabernet, Merlot. Enough to drink – even if it takes two bottle. (LOL) It helps the cooking process if you drink liberally!

Prep:

You need to take the skin off the tomatoes first. Which is easier than it sounds once you’ve done it.

You need 1 Pot and Two Bowls. Put water into the pot. Enough to cover a half dozen or a couple more small ones tomatoes.

First, remove any leafy parts. And, with a sharp knife, cut an X in the bottom of each tomato.

Bring the water to a boil and drop Tomatoes in. Leave there for about a minute and remove with a slotted spoon to Bowl # 1, which is filled with water and some ice cubes. You will see the skin curl up and the ice water immediately cools the tomatoes. Remove skins with your fingers and drop them into Bowl Number 2, discarding the Skins.

Repeat until all are done.

If you have a food processor, you can put the tomatoes in to lightly puree. But quite frankly, I think it works better to mash them up in a large bowl with tool something like a hand potato masher. Leaves you some larger pieces but does the job.

Set Aside.

In Your large pot:

  • Put some olive oil in, enough to brown the pieces of meat on both sides. I salt and Pepper when I do this.

  • Brown and set aside.

  • I add a little more oil, and then the cloves of garlic – CHOPPED and sauté lightly.

  • Add Onions, Celery and Carrots

  • sauté lightly

  • Then the Can of Paste.

  • Then add: Oregano, Red Pepper Flakes, Basil, Salt and Pepper, Bay Leaf and Sugar.

  • Mix it all up and sauté for about a minute or two.

  • Add the mashed tomatoes. And stir up.

  • Add the pepperoncinis – this is the secret ingredient that gives the sauce a kick.

  • Add about a cup of wine.

  • Return Meat to Sauce (Big Chunks. They will braise and actually start to fall off the bone.)

The thing is – using fresh tomatoes means you have a LOT of water. So it takes a couple – even three plus hours to simmer it down. I do it with the top off the pot and stir every 15 minutes or so to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn. Don’t know if you have an electric or Gas stove but I have it on low.

Leaving the top off allows the house to fill with a great Smell.

I taste it periodically to make sure it doesn’t need anything. I actually salt it a bit more than most people. And sometimes, throw in another teaspoon of basil.

Over the cooking time, it is best to drink the remaining part of the wine, so that no matter how it tastes and what your guests say, you don’t really give a shit. It will taste good to YOU!

Use whatever pasta you like. I have made fresh pasta with my Kitchen-Aid that is nothing short of divine. But you can get some really great pastas these days that are locally produced.

I use fresh cheese and grate it over the Pasta rather than that cardboard canned stuff that tastes like beach sand.

Warn your guests about the pepperoncinnis. I find it best take them out along with the bay leaf.

Open more wine. :-)