I took those words to heart. And in the years since she uttered them to me, I’ve tried hard to find that dish. I’ve tried to perfect Indian daal, roast chicken, Spanish tortilla, even lentil soup. Yet even when I memorize a recipe’s ingredients and uncover the secrets to their best blending, I find I can’t actually count on myself to make any dish at all on a moment’s notice. I lack basic skills. I lack focus. I choke under pressure. Pick your reason..
Still, I embrace the ideal of the basics. Learn to do the basics well and the rest may well follow. Possibly. So naturally I was delighted to see that Adam, in his new book, The Amateur Gourmet, starts off with his favorite tomato sauce – the sauce that made him fall in love with cooking…”a simple assemblage of ingredients that within thirty minutes becomes something entirely new.”
That’s what I’m talking about! You can impress friends and family with a solid marinara. And this one is from a famous Crocs-shod celebrity chef. How could I go wrong? Here it is:
From Mario Batali’s Babbo Cookbook:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, or 1 tablespoon dried
1/2 medium carrot, finely shredded
2 28-ounce cans peeled whole tomatoes
In a three-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute a bit. Then add the garlic. Cook for about 8-10 minutes or until soft and light golden brown. Add the thyme and carrot and cook for 5 minutes more. Dump the contents of your cans into a medium bowl, and with your hand, crush the tomatoes and add them, with juices, to the contents of the saucepan. Adam recommends submerging the tomatoes before crushing them, to avoid a tomato juice bloodbath, and I heartily concur.
Bring to a boil, stirring often, then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is as thick as hot cereal. (What kind of hot cereal he never says.) When your whole house smells like Italy, season with kosher salt to taste. Serve with attitude.
I have already made this sauce twice. That’s twice in the fortnight I’ve owned the book. It’s my own little practice space. I have assembled the sauce by the book (more or less…I only had baby carrots, for example, and a zester. Ouch!), but the recipe is forgiving, and the results have been greatly pleasing. So now I’m experimenting with it. Like a real chef!
My own 10-year-old daughter pronounced this sauce: “Delicious. But you overcooked the pasta.”
Late last night I made it for the flamenco guitarist, who arrived after a huge show needing a warm meal. I used a different kind of canned tomato I wasn’t happy with, and I didn’t get to simmer it long enough to get the desired oatmeal thickness.
Didn’t matter. The guitarist was overcome with the aroma of thyme and tomatoes the moment he walked in the door, and he never recovered. “Better watch it,” he warned, between bites of fettuccine. “What are you going to write about if you’re not the Bad Home Cook anymore?”
Well. Let’s not overstate things. It’s not like I was going to open a cookbook and find a tomato sauce to experiment with on my own. Like a pre-schooler at her first swimming lesson, I needed to be pushed. Adam pushed me, and I’m hugely grateful. Yeah, I was an editorial snoot when reviewing his book, but look what his book is doing for my culinary life! I hurt because I love, baby!
My mother-in-law’s going to be so impressed!