Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A lovely break from the everyday...

Things have been a bit crazy here, lately. I always have these visions of lovely summers full of picnics and road trips but it seems every summer I move into a new place, line up way too many projects or have some sort of major life event. This summer: check, check and check! Then again, if life were like my fantasies I would have nothing to look forward to, nothing to reach for.

Regardless, I took a brief break the other day to make a batch of something I use often but hadn't made in quite some time: tomato sauce. Mario Batali's Basic Sauce from Molto Italiano, to be precise. I love this sauce. It's become the sauce I turn to and always have on hand. In the book, Mario uses it again and again transforming it with bacon or peppers to create a multitude of dishes, which is absolutely fantastic. However, I use it even more often as my go-to pizza sauce for Pizza Friday (more on that, later).

But it isn't just the possibilities that I love about this sauce. What I really love is that the ingredients are so simple you probably already have most everything on hand and the recipe is mastered quickly so you'll be tweaking it to your tastes in just a batch or two. Jared, my fiancee, loves to add red pepper flakes, garlic, and even jalapenos to his sauce but he never does make a recipe by the book. This time, I added some spent parmegiano reggiano rinds when I threw in the tomatoes (2 smallish rinds) and it may be my best version yet. I wasn't sure it would make much difference, but as soon as it started to simmer I could smell the cheese in with the tomatoes and the flavor was light but unmistakable, unlike the jarred sauces I tend to avoid. I've turned over ideas of roasted garlic versions or one with sun-dried tomatoes, but I have yet to give them a try; another project for another day!

Basic Tomato Sauce
Originally Published in Molto Italiano by Mario Batali

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried
1/2 medium carrot, finely grated
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved

1. In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
2. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot, and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft.
3. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt. This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Strawberry Cookies and things to come...

This weekend, we had dinner with some friends of ours which seemed to be the perfect opportunity to bake up something summery. I wanted to do something with fruit, so I thought I would either make a tart or a strawberry-something-or-other (being the very end of their season in these parts). Whenever I make something with fresh fruit I try to go into it without too many specific expectations of what to make or even what fruit to buy. Instead, I head out with an open mind ready to come home with whatever looks and, more importantly, smells the very best as your nose will almost always tell you what fruit is freshest and ripest. When I saw the strawberries at the market and breathed in their heavenly aroma, I knew it was time to give this recipe a try.

I found these cookies in Martha Stewart Living some time ago (June 2009, to be exact). I came back to them several times but put them aside because 1.) good strawberries weren't available at the time 2.) the recipe states they only keep for one day and 3.) I generally bake for other people or events and the time just hadn't come yet. But Saturday the time finally came. They seemed light enough to go with the lasagna, I had strawberries in hand and the recipe makes a relatively small number of cookies which made me less concerned about their short shelf life.

When they came out of the oven, these babies were heavenly. Really, they are just like if you sweetened a shortcake biscuit and swirled the strawberries in. However, I have a few notes. Aside from the berries, nearly everything needed to bake up these cookies is probably in your fridge or pantry and on a personal note they finally gave me an excuse to use my grandmother's pastry blender so that's all very fantastic. However, Martha is not kidding about these cookies only keeping for one day. Although they were absolutely perfect 10-20 minutes from the oven, several hours later when I brought them to dinner they were already getting soggy. There go all of my visions of packing them in a picnic. They really should be consumed immediately, but if you have a cookie-loving maniac in your household like I do that really shouldn't be a problem.

Also, the original recipe said to "sprinkle" the sanding sugar, but that really wasn't adequate. To get that fantastic crunchy, sugary bite I found it was necessary to really pour it on, beyond what one would think is necessary as the cookies do expand and some of the sugar will be absorbed into puddles of liquefied strawberries.

Strawberry-Shortcake Cookies

Originally Published in Martha Stewart Living, June 2009

12 ounces strawberries, hulled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup heavy cream
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine strawberries, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 7 tablespoons granulated sugar in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, or rub in with your fingers, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in cream until dough starts to come together, then stir in strawberry mixture.
2. Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment, spacing evenly apart. Sprinkle with sanding sugar, and bake until golden brown, 24 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool. Cookies are best served immediately, but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day.

Over the next few weeks I'll be preparing to move into a new place which will bring with it new cooking, crafting and gardening adventures! In the meantime, I'll placate my need to create by planning picnics and summer dinners.