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GOOD COOKING

Red Sauce Rising

January 06, 1994|ABBY MANDEL

Few things are as basic as tomato sauce. Simple and straightforward, it affords many options: a sauce for pasta, rice, baked potatoes, meats, grilled vegetables or omelets. It's a base for a soup as well as a quick fix for sauteed or broiled seafood. It freezes well and can then be thawed in amounts that accommodate your needs.

Canned tomatoes work well in this sauce. Cut whole tomatoes crosswise and gently press out the seeds. It's a rather messy procedure, but one that is worth the effort. The tomatoes then can be coarsely chopped in the food processor, giving the sauce a homespun texture as it simmers slowly in an open pot, requiring very little attention.

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\o7 As simple as this tomato sauce appears, there was some experimenting before this recipe finally won out. I wanted a tomato sauce that tasted fresh with an interesting texture, adaptable to many uses. The sauce can be pureed after it has been cooked, if you prefer a smoother consistency. The food processor is handy for this, making fast work of mincing the garlic, onions, celery and carrots as well as coarsely chopping the drained, seeded tomatoes, something best done in small batches to better control the texture.

BASIC TOMATO SAUCE

2 teaspoons olive oil

4 large cloves garlic, minced

2 medium onions, minced

1 stalk celery, minced

1 medium carrot, minced

2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes

1 cup dry white wine

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons dried basil

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt

Red pepper flakes

Heat oil in 4-quart non-aluminum pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onions, celery and carrot. Cook, uncovered, until onion is tender, about 6 minutes, stirring often.

Meanwhile, drain tomatoes, reserving liquid. Cut tomatoes crosswise and gently press out seeds. Chop tomatoes coarsely in processor batches.

Add tomatoes and liquid to pot. Add wine, sugar, basil, oregano, salt and red pepper flakes to taste. Simmer, uncovered, 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Can be made several days in advance and refrigerated or frozen as long as 3 months. Makes 8 cups.

Each tablespoon contains about:

6 calories; 39 mg sodium; trace cholesterol; trace fat; 1 gram carbohydrates; trace protein; 0.09 gram fiber.

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Eggplant, long associated with massive quantities of oil, is seared in a non - stick pan with red onions and a minimal amount of oil. Although eggplant doesn't always require salting before cooking, it's insurance against any bitterness.

PAN-SEARED EGGPLANT AND RED ONION IN TOMATO SAUCE

1 medium firm eggplant, peeled if desired, cut into 3/4-inch dice

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 medium red onion, cut into small dice

2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons julienned basil

1/2 pound dried pasta, boiled in salted water and drained, cooking water reserved

1 clove garlic, minced

Grated Parmesan cheese

Put eggplant in colander. Toss with salt. Let stand in sink 1/2 hour, weighted down. Rinse thoroughly with cold water and drain on paper towels. Pat dry.

Heat oil in 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and eggplant. Cook, uncovered, stirring only as vegetables look slightly charred, about 5 minutes. Add sauce and sugar. Adjust seasonings to taste. Stir in julienned basil. Can be made 3 days in advance and refrigerated, or frozen as long as 3 months.

To serve, toss hot cooked pasta with eggplant sauce, 1/4 cup of cooking liquid and minced garlic. Pass grated Parmesan cheese. Makes 3 servings.

Each serving contains about:

361 calories; 814 mg sodium; trace cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 73 grams carbohydrates; 12 grams protein; 0.83 gram fiber.

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Here, the tomato sauce becomes a warm salsa, the perfect complement to Southwestern oven-fried chicken. A great low - fat - frying result is achieved with a zesty mustard and crumb coating. Skinless, boneless chicken breasts are used, but skinless thighs and legs can be substituted.

SOUTHWESTERN OVEN-FRIED CHICKEN ON WARM TOMATO SALSA

2 large cloves garlic

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 1/3 cups fresh fine white bread crumbs (about 3 slices)

2 teaspoons cornmeal

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

Dash cayenne pepper

3 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard

1 1/2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon honey

4 chicken breast halves, boned, skinned

Salt

Warm Tomato Salsa

In work bowl of food processor, combine garlic, oil, bread crumbs, cornmeal, cilantro, cumin, salt and cayenne pepper. Process to rough crumbs. Transfer crumbs to shallow pie plate.

Combine mustard, water and honey in another shallow pie plate.

Dip breasts one at a time in mustard mixture, coating evenly but not too heavily. Season lightly to taste with salt. Dip in crumb mixture, brushing away excess. Gently pat crumbs in place. Place breasts, rounded side up, on lightly greased jellyroll pan. Bake at 400 degrees until crisp and browned, about 25 minutes.

To serve, swirl Warm Tomato Salsa on warm serving plates and place 1 cooked breast in center of each plate. Serve immediately with hot rice. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

356 calories; 1,046 mg sodium; 78 mg cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 22 grams carbohydrates; 28 grams protein; 0.71 gram fiber.

Warm Tomato Salsa

1 1/2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon sugar

2 small green onions, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons minced cilantro

Gently heat tomato sauce, cumin and sugar in non-aluminum saucepan or in microwave oven. When hot, stir in green onions and cilantro. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

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