Excerpted from an email to Mom: "Mr. Food Musings made marinara sauce last night -- he's really good at it but we [okay, I] wanted to try a new recipe. He opted for the basic marinara plus olives and basil and, all kidding and hyperbole aside, it was THE BEST PASTA SAUCE I'VE EVER EATEN!"
I can see you now, foolish readers, rolling your eyes and scoffing at my unbridled enthusiasm. "Haven't we heard this before?" you're thinking smugly. Well, I can't remember. Maybe you have. But this time I mean it!
In a rare moment of weakness, I succumbed to Food Network porn last weekend. Mr. FM and I were browsing the aisles at Cost Co. (a favorite pasttime -- Mr. FM can be found near the wine and spirits and I can be found with the books). And there it was, leering up at me: Giada de Laurentiis' Everyday Italian.
Excerpted from an email to M.: "Do I need Everyday Italian? Uh-uh. Does it have unusual recipes? Not unless you’ve been buried under a rock and have never heard of basil pesto or marinara sauce. But its simplicity appealed to me –- sometimes those recipes are hard to find."
And it's true, they can be. Besides, how can you not love a cookbook that includes a recipe for a Nutella sandwich? Her checca sauce is another absolute favorite.
Excerpted from Mario Batali's introduction to Everyday Italian: "Most of the recipes don't require more than a half-dozen ingredients or a half-page of notes, yet they still seem to cover everything I want to eat, with a determined focus to allow simple flavors to shine and an equally determined effort to get them on the table quickly (instead of spending half a day looking for ingredients, which I often have to do when when I'm cooking out of my own books).... Giada isn't out to impress anyone with her expertise on esoteric ingredients or her wildly inventive new flavor combinations. Her cooking is part of the twenty-first-century Italian world citizen -- not a throwback to the days of handmade pasta and daylong-simmered stews. But this is still the food of grandmas and aunts and brothers and cousins and sisters and in-laws, the cooking of the real Italy...this is truly the cooking of the Italian family."
And what, other than a few plugs for Batali's own books, is wrong with that?
Tomato Sauce with Olives
To make this, you have to first have a marinara sauce on hand. Many of you probably have your own favorite, a secret family recipe under lock and key, or a jar of something pretty decent from the market (gasp!) Whatever you use, make sure it's good -- I can't vouch that the sauce will turn out quite as well if your original marinara is crummy. The recipe for the one we used, also from Everyday Italian, is below. Remember the marinara alone needs about an hour to simmer down so plan a wee bit ahead. (And, it makes more than you need for the tomato sauce with olives, so freeze the rest.) Serve the tomato sauce with olives over a pasta that will grip the chunky sauce, like a rotelli or penne shape.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/4 cups mixed olives, pitted and halved (I used wrinkled, dry-cured black ones and green picholines)
1 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
4 cups basic marinara sauce (recipe follows)
2 TBSP dried basil
In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high. When hot but not smoking, add the olives and crushed red pepper. Saute for 3 minutes. Reduce to low, pour in marinara sauce, and simmer till flavors have blended, about 10 minutes. Stir in the basil and season with more crushed red pepper if desired.
Basic marinara sauce:
Yield: 8 cups
1/2 cup olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 1/3 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes (the original recipe calls for 2 32-ounce cans, but I couldn't find 32-ounce cans in my grocery store)
2 dried bay leaves
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high. Add onions and garlic and saute until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, salt and pepper and saute until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves and simmer over low, uncovered, until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Remove from heat and discard bay leaves. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately, or freeze for up to 3 months.