Posts Tagged ‘spaghetti’

Tomato sauce for pizza and more

Monday, February 9th, 2009

This is a recipe that can be used in so many ways it’s always good to make more than you need and freeze the excess. Homemade is always better than store-bought in my universe, and I keep a container or two of this tomato sauce in the freezer at all times. It’s great on pizza, and is a real time-saver when you get an urge to whip up spaghetti with meatballs or fresh Italian sausage for a quick dinner. It also helps transform boring chicken breasts into much better-looking and tasting chicken parmigiana.


  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh basil (or flat leaf parsley), torn or chopped
  • leaves from 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 big can – 1 pound 12 oz (about 800 g) – of the best tomatoes you can find or an equivalent amount of ripe fresh tomatoes
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

Place a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium low heat. Add the olive oil, garlic and onion. Saute until onion is translucent, add the tomatoes, basil and thyme. If the tomatoes are whole – smash them with the back of a spoon or fork. Season with salt and pepper, add the vinegar and some sugar if too sour. Cook for 5-6 minutes, until it begins to concentrate. Strain the sauce through a sieve, pushing with a wooden spoon or using a whisk. Put the strained sauce back into the pan and simmer for few more minutes until it is thick enough to spread on a pizza, or add a bit of water if it’s for pasta. Freeze any leftovers.

Comfort me with…whatever (Spaghetti with pesto, garlic and cherry tomatoes)

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

It’s official – January of 2009 was the coldest in two decades for the Chicago area. The snow is frozen hard, the sidewalks are icy and the wind is extremely hostile. I don’t think Chicago and I had a good start.

This week I’m into comfort food mode, trying to lift my spirits and struggling to stop the shivering. I always believed in simple, fuss-free dishes that uplift your mood with their smell and taste. Hour-long glaze and sauce reductions are not for me. I’d rather spend a few hours in the kitchen preparing several different dishes, than laboring over some complicated haute-cuisine extravaganza. So yesterday’s dinner was spaghetti with homemade pesto, garlic and cherry tomatoes, and today’s lunch – crab sticks, orange and mayo salad served with parsnip, green pea and Parmesan paste over toasted bagels.

If I hadn’t left my pasta machine behind, I would make the spaghetti myself. Nothing can beat homemade pasta – it has a different, more springy bite and the eggs add extra flavor. Once you learn how to make it and have a machine, it’s really easy. I love dealing with dough – getting it together and kneading it is one of the best stress relievers I know. Homemade pesto is also easy and way better than the stuff from a jar. As always with simple recipes you get the best results when using good quality products and even better when you make most of them yourself. I did cheat this time – the pesto was from my mother-in-law, but made from the basil she grows in her backyard, so I don’t feel guilty. It’s not easy to find fresh basil in winter, but you can play with the ingredients. I’ve made parsley pesto and mint pesto, as well as combinations of both. I would also use walnuts instead of the expensive pine nuts with very good results. Make more than you need and store in a jar in the fridge or freeze in small containers – it’s a great fast fix for vinaigrettes, roasted vegetables or even soups. I prefer handfuls to cups for measuring leafy greens and herbs – it’s a more helpful estimate when you are shopping for them, as bunches vary in size. It also saves time – no last-minute dashes to the store – and you end up with no wasted rotten greens in the fridge.

Spaghetti with pesto, garlic and cherry tomatoes (serves 4)

Ingredients for the pesto:

  • 3 handfuls fresh basil, tough stems removed (or the same amount flat leaf parsley)
  • ½ cup olive oil – not too strong, as it’ll overpower the taste of basil
  • ¼ cup pine nuts (or walnuts)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
  • salt
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano

Dry roast the pine nuts (or walnuts) in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium high heat, stirring constantly, as nuts tend to burn fast, until slightly brown and the aromatic oils begin to be released – about 1-1 ½ minutes. Place all the ingredients, except the cheese, in a food processor and process until smooth. If you don’t have a food processor (I don’t), use a standing or hand blender. Add the cheese and taste. Add some salt if you want, though the cheese should be enough. If you like it more sour – add extra lemon juice. No need to be slavish about this recipe – you can adjust it to your own taste. I’m sure there are as many pesto variations in Italy as people are making it.

Ingredients for the dish:

  • 1 pound spaghetti (best you can afford)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed to a paste
  • 2 handfuls cherry tomatoes, about ½ pound – cut in half
  • extra Parmesan or Pecorino Romano

Set the table, with the extra cheese, a salad, if you’ve made one, and plates, as you have to serve the pasta the minute it’s ready. Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water (it should be really salty – try it and you should taste the salt) over high heat. Start trying the pasta after 4-5 minutes if using store bought – it’s hard to guess the time it needs to get to that al dente stage with different brands. When it’s tender but still firm, whatever that means to you, drain, but don’t run under cold water. Pour the pasta into a big bowl, add at least 4 tbsp pesto, the mashed garlic and tomatoes, and mix well. Serve immediately with extra Parmesan and more pesto if you wish.

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