Friday, October 30, 2009

Midtown Market Marinara Sauce

Hello foodies of the world! My name is Ian and I am your resident omnivore. Like my friends with whom I share this blog, I just graduated from Macalester College last spring, myself with a music major and history minor. I am taking a year off to pursue my musical and creative interests before forging ahead into the world of lifelong academica! My goal right now is to get a Ph.D in composition and become a college professor. We'll see how that turns out!

I've lived with Iain and Emily for over a year now and we happily still share a kitchen. This past September, I drove back up from PA (my home state) after a summer spent abroad in France and Switzerland! I was in Paris for the month of July, studying music at the Ecole Normale, and afterwards spent three weeks traveling by myself. It was a fantastic adventure. I learned a lot about myself and the world around me, and returned with a new zest for life!

Anyhow, back in September I came up and the three of us moved from our apartment in St. Paul to a little bungalow in Minneapolis, and we love it! It feels like a "real people" house, not a student house. It's quite cozy, being very heat efficient, and has nice wood floors through most of it. And there's a perfect little nook in our living room for my piano. Joy!! I also brought up my cello, which I have recently started to play again, having taken a break my senior year in high school. Our little home is a haven of creative writing circles, book reading, great music, and, of course, excellent food!

You can expect my adventures to wander into non-vegetarian realms from time to time, but I generally cook things that don't explicitly require meat or meat products. My goal in cooking is to get the most out of great local and/or sustainably grown ingredients. To Emily's great chagrin, and the revulsion of a few un-stout souls (Emily has just thwacked me for that one), I saved the drippings from some excellent local, grass-fed pepper bacon from our beloved Seward Co-op, and began to experiment with using it as a cooking ingredient, rather than simply chucking it. The bacon was so great, it seemed like a great waste to throw any part of it away.

Lo and behold! Lard, despite all its connotations, contains more of the "good" kinds of fat than butter, and is great when used in moderation. If you're curious, google "lard health" - go ahead and laugh at the oxymoron, but you might be surprised with what you find! Humans have been cooking with it for centuries, so it can't be *that* bad.

This, however, is not an entry about lard. I am here to tell you about the dish I made way back in September, when it was nice and warm and the sun sparkled through green leaves in our lovely little backyard. I went to the Midtown Market and picked up a bunch of awesome-looking heirloom tomatoes, as well as patty pan squash, bell peppers, and red thai peppers:

Yum!! I decided to make a marinara sauce so that I could best experience the flavors of all these different kinds of tomatoes. I'm actually not too familiar with heirloom vegetables, and I'm still getting the hang of the various flavors and functions of all kinds of food, so I took some notes on each tomato as I cut it up:

Small red zebra striped tomato: spicy, vibrant flavor
Sm/med red: sweet, delicate
Plum: meaty and rich
Dark green/purple: dark, subtle
Yellow: light and flavorful
Orange: zesty
Multicolored with a red base: full bodied, rich flavor - mmm!

I think I liked the multicolored ones the best, but I figure that a variety of different tomatoes would make for the best sauce. I based it on a marinara recipe out of my friend Drew's Italian cookbook, and, unfortunately, it is copied down in my personal cookbook without a reference, so I can't give you the name of it. Shame!

Midtown Market Marinara Sauce

10 heirloom tomatoes of various sizes
olive oil - and I used about a tablespoon of delicious, ethically and sustainably farmed lard in addition to the olive oil ;)
many garlic cloves - i used 4 or 6
an onion
1 little red thai pepper, SEEDED. I made the mistake of cooking with the seeds once. It wasn't pretty.
8-10 basil leaves, we had a lot left over from Emily's basil plant at the old house!
salt and pepper
a bell pepper
three patty pan squash
local Parmesan
a little sugar (for if it gets too acidic - I didn't use it)

Kitchen Equipment
Cutting board
Wooden spoon!
Big ol' pasta pot

Music Listened To:
Norah Jones, Oscar Peterson

1. Chop things. Everything but the patty pan squash gets diced nice and small, so it cooks into a good sauce that's not too chunky, but still chunky enough to have that awesome hand-made quality to it. Slice up the patty pans and cut them so they are appealing to you as something to put on top of the pasta. Note that though I bought two bell peppers, I've only used about half of them, saving the other half for another purpose.

2. Garlic to the skillet. Heat up some olive oil mixed with either lard or butter - on medium heat, so it won't scorch. When the surface is rippling lightly, add the onion, garlic, and thai pepper, and stir this till just golden, about 2 minutes.

3. Everything in. Add tomatoes, basil, most of the bell peppers, and a dash each of salt and pepper. Cook uncovered on medium heat for anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour and a half, stirring occasionally so the sauce doesn't scorch or burn. You might need to turn the heat down and, if so, give it more time to cook. Keep tasting it and when the flavors are coming out nicely and it has a consistency you like, add a little more olive oil to it, taste it, and season it. If it's too acidic, add sugar one teaspoon at a time. When the juice evaporates and the sauce is thick, it is done!

4. Make some pasta. A box should do. I mean, maybe you bought some more tomatoes than I did, but my proportions are what they are, as a humble bachelor making dinner for himself.

5. Saute the patty pans. Heat up some olive oil mixed with butter or lard in a skillet, and throw in the patty pans with the rest of the bell peppers. If you want, you could also save some of the garlic and put that in first, but if you're already at this point in the recipe, you probably should have thought of this about an hour ago. Stir it around, add a little pepper, maybe white pepper, if you have it, would be neat to add here. I just used black 'cause that's all we have. When they've softened to the point that they are tender but still have a slight crunch, take them off the heat.

6. Prepare and serve! Get some pasta into a bowl, ladle some marinara on top of it, put some squash on top of the marinara and some parmesan on top of the squash. And there you go! Brilliant! Some of you might question my use of squash on pasta, but trust me, they work great. Because I didn't have any wine yet, my beverage of choice was a glass of delicious local milk. I hope this turns out as zesty and wonderful as it did for me! Though, do go easy on the lard, because it gets a bit heavy if you're not careful!! And watch out for peeved vegetarian housemates, too, while you're at it ;)

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