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GOOD COOKING

Building on a Basic Red Sauce

February 02, 1995|ABBY MANDEL

Unless you're cooking for a special celebration and want to experiment, the easiest way to enjoy success in the kitchen is to rely on dishes that have become familiar to you and that you like serving. Red sauce is one of the most useful basics you can possibly make.

First of all, red sauce--a textured seasoned tomato sauce--appeals to almost everyone, an amazing fact in the food-specific 1990s. More than that, it has many low-fat applications that are full-flavored and delicious. Beyond pasta, red sauce works as the base for soup, meatballs, stew or chili, as a topping for pizza, baked potatoes, rice and other grains in addition to seafood, chicken and turkey.

True, many commercial tomato sauce products can be found on supermarket shelves, but they're expensive and always require some reworking so they'll fit your specific taste and cooking needs.

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The following basic red sauce recipe is one that I have continually refined and improved. Well flavored, it's gutsy enough to ladle over pasta with just a simple garnish of fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese, or you can use it on a more elaborate dish with seared scallops, served over steamed rice.

The recipe makes 10 cups, probably more than you will need for one meal. Refrigerate or freeze the excess in conveniently sized portions for later use. In addition to the recipe for basic red sauce with a variation for meat sauce, I am including recipes for other hearty dishes that are based on it.

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Here's my final effort at red sauce, vibrantly flavored even though it's made with vegetable broth. This sauce can be pureed after it's cooked if you like a smooth consistency; I prefer it somewhat textured except in the meat sauce variation that follows. The processor makes fast work of mincing the garlic, onions, celery and carrots, but do them in small batches so they won't be ground to mush.

BASIC RED SAUCE

2 teaspoons olive oil

4 large cloves garlic, minced

2 medium onions, minced

1 rib celery, minced

1 medium carrot, minced

2 (28-ounce) cans ground plum tomatoes

2/3 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine

2 cups vegetable broth

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons dried basil

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt

Red pepper flakes

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

Add tomatoes and their liquid to pot along with dry vermouth, vegetable broth, 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 up to 3 days or frozen as long as 3 months. Makes 8 cups sauce.

Each 1/2-cup serving contains about:

57 calories; 504 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 1 gram fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.7 gram fiber.

Meat Sauce Variation

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

3 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 1/4 pounds extra-lean ground beef

3 3/4 cups Basic Red Sauce

1 1/4 cups beef broth

3/4 teaspoon dried basil

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Heat oil in 4-quart pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add garlic and ground meat. Cook until meat is browned, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add Basic Red Sauce, beef broth, dried basil and dried oregano. Simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes.

In batches, transfer sauce to food processor fitted with metal blade or blender. Pulse until sauce has fine texture but is not smooth. Can be refrigerated 3 days or frozen as long as 3 months. Makes 5 1/2 cups sauce.

Each 1/2-cup serving contains about:

139 calories; 457 mg sodium; 27 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 7 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 0.52 gram fiber.

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Vegetarian pasta dishes aren't difficult to find but this one is especially interesting. It's important to season the spaghetti squash before saucing it.

SPICY TOMATO SAUCE WITH OLIVES AND CAPERS ON GARLICKY SPAGHETTI SQUASH

1 medium spaghetti squash, cooked, shredded with fork

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups Basic Red Sauce

18 Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons drained capers

Red pepper flakes

Grated imported Parmesan cheese

Put spaghetti squash in large bowl. Toss with garlic and salt until well mixed. Set aside.

In 2-quart pot, gently heat Basic Red Sauce, olives, capers and red pepper flakes to taste. Can be made ahead and refrigerated up to 3 days.

To serve, gently reheat spaghetti squash in microwave oven and sauce in microwave oven or stove top. When both are hot, toss together in warm serving dish until well combined. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve hot. Pass grated Parmesan cheese separately. Makes 3 servings.

Each serving contains about:

197 calories; 1862 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 28 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 3.93 grams fiber.

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