Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Pasta Sauce – Marinara

print recipe card posted in Main Dishes, Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces, Vegetarian by Kathy Maister
Difficulty:

This is a very basic (and quick!) tomato sauce that takes very little time to cook and can be made ahead of time and frozen. It can be used with any pasta dish or in lasagna.

You will need the following ingredients to make this Marinara Sauce recipe:

Be sure to get both the onion and garlic chopped before you turn on the stove.

You’ll need about 1 cup of finely chopped onions for this recipe. Two small or one medium onion should do the trick.

Peel and mince 4 cloves of garlic. That’s a lot of garlic, but it does get cooked, so it’s not going to be too strong.

Fresh basil is essential for this recipe. Nowadays, most grocery store carry fresh basil year-round. You can wash it the same way you wash lettuce. Pull the leaves off the stem and throw the stems away.

Put the basil and the canned tomatoes, with their juice, in a blender and puree everything until almost smooth. Set the tomato-basil puree aside.

(As I filled the blender I thought, YIKES, this is way too full! With my hand pressed firmly on the lid of the blender I pressed the puree button. I was very lucky that my kitchen did not end up covered in tomato sauce. Next time I would puree this mixture in two batches!)

Heat ½ cup of olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat.

That does sound like a ton of oil, but believe me it works. It gives the sauce a full, rich flavor.

Add the onions and garlic and cook until very tender, about 12 minutes.

The onions should not get browned. This is what they should look like after 12 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes and basil that you pureed in the blender and 1 teaspoon of oregano plus 1 teaspoon of sugar. (Don’t skip the sugar. It helps balance the acid in the tomatoes.)

Bring the sauce to a simmer over a medium-high heat. Decrease the heat to medium and continue simmering until the sauce thickens slightly, stirring occasionally. This will take about 10 minutes.

Give the sauce a taste. You may need to add about ½ -1 teaspoon of salt and several grinds of fresh pepper.

The sauce can be made 1 day ahead. If you are storing it for future use, cool the sauce, then cover and refrigerate it. Gently re-heat sauce over medium heat before using it.

If you are going to be freezing this sauce, use small containers that would be enough for 1-2 serving.

Be sure to spray your plastic containers with cooking spray first so they don’t get stained by the tomato sauce.

(For more basic pasta sauce recipes, be sure to check out my Tomato Sauce Video or my Turkey Sausage Sauce photo-tutorial.)

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Turkey Sausage Sauce

Enjoy!

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How to: Tomatoes

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

 

Today’s tomato round-up not only includes How to Peel and Seed a Tomato, but also:

How to Buy and Store Tomatoes

When you pick up a good tomato, it should feel heavy for its size and have a distinct tomato-y smell. It should have a little “give” when you feel it, but not be mushy, and the skin should not be bruised or have blemishes or cracks.

The best place to get tomatoes is in your own backyard vegetable garden or from a local farmer’s market. Tomatoes in the grocery store are often picked before they’re ready, artificially ripened, and not as flavorful as the locally grown fresh varieties. Canned tomatoes can often be better than the tomatoes in the grocery store.

Do not refrigerate tomatoes, because their texture will change; they’ll become mealy. Instead, store them on your counter top in a cool, dry spot, stem side down. Don’t stack them on top of each other, because they’ll tend to make each other mushy. Store them in a single layer.

There are roughly three types of tomatoes generally found at the grocery store.

1. Slicing tomatoes:

One popular kind is the beefsteak tomato.

It is grown for fresh use, and it yields large slices perfect for sandwiches! Look for the sign or the label on the tomato itself.

2. Paste/Canning tomatoes:

These are often smaller and more oblong-shaped than slicing tomatoes. They tend to be meatier and have fewer seeds – perfect for making sauces with creamy texture and lots of flavor, or canning for the long winter! One popular variety is the Roma tomato. These are also known as “plum tomatoes.”

3. Tiny ones:

Cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes are the most popular. These are great for adding tomato flavor to dishes without any of the moisture associated with the cut fruit — perfect for pasta salads or green salads!

In the summertime, especially at Farmer’s Markets, there are of course, many more varieties of tomatoes available. Here’s a great website with a description and photos of dozens of tomatoes.


How to Peel and Seed a Tomato

Some of you might be thinking – “why do I ever need to peel and seed a tomato?”

It can be a matter of preference but, generally speaking, for recipes with quick cooking times it is best to peel the tomatoes. Recipes that call for a long simmering time usually do not have you peel the tomatoes. In my Guacamole recipe I do not peel the tomato but I do seed it as all those extra seeds (and juice) really throw off the texture and can make it watery.

 

Start by cutting an X in the bottom of the tomato with a very sharp knife. You want to just pierce the skin.

 

If you are peeling just one or two (or three!) tomatoes put them in a heat-proof (Pyrex) bowl big enough so that when you add the water they will be totally covered.

 

Pour BOILING water over the tomato(es.)

 

Within about 10-15 seconds, the skin will have burst. (There are some who say to leave the tomato in the water for 3-to-4 minutes. WRONG! You do not want the tomato to cook and get mushy.)

Remove the tomato from the water with a pair of tongs.

 

You can also do this in a pot of boiling water, using tongs to add and remove the tomato from the pot.

Prepare an ice-bath, which is just a bowl of water with ice cubes in it.

Using tongs, drop the tomato into the ice bath.

This cools off the tomato and stops the cooking process. Remove the tomato from the ice bath and the skin now just slips off…

 

…and the tomato is all peeled.

 

To remove the seeds, cut the tomato in half with the blade of the knife parallel to the stem.

 

You can gently squeeze the tomato to remove the seeds, or just ease them out with your finger.

 

Once tomatoes are peeled and seeded they can get added to salads, dips, sauces, cold soups, etc.

 

The longest part of the entire process of peeling and seeding a tomato is boiling the water!


 

How to Freeze Tomatoes

If your garden is bursting with fresh tomatoes you can actually freeze raw tomatoes.

The University of Nebraska’s Alice Henneman (MS, RD, UNL Extension in Lancaster County) has described how you would go about freezing raw tomatoes:

“Tomatoes may be frozen whole, sliced, chopped, or puréed. Additionally, you can freeze them raw or cooked, as juice or sauce, or prepared in the recipe of your choice. Thawed raw tomatoes may be used in any cooked-tomato recipe. Do not try to substitute them for fresh tomatoes, however, since freezing causes their texture to become mushy. Tomatoes should be seasoned just before serving rather than before freezing; freezing may either strengthen or weaken seasonings such as garlic, onion, and herbs.

Preparation:

Select firm, ripe tomatoes for freezing. Sort the tomatoes, discarding any that are spoiled. Wash them in clean water. Dry them by blotting with a clean cloth or paper towels.

Freezing whole tomatoes with peels:

Prepare tomatoes as described above. Cut away the stem. Place the uncut tomatoes on cookie sheets and freeze. Tomatoes do not need to be blanched before freezing. Once frozen, transfer the tomatoes from the cookie sheets into freezer bags or other containers. Seal tightly.

To use the frozen tomatoes, remove them from the freezer a few at a time or all at once. To peel, just run a frozen tomato under warm water in the kitchen sink. Its skin will slip off easily.

Freezing peeled tomatoes:

If you prefer to freeze peeled tomatoes, you can wash the tomatoes and then dip them in boiling water for about 1 minute or until the skins split. Peel and then freeze as noted above.

For more information on freezing tomatoes: Check this link to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, hosted by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service: Freezing Tomatoes

Storage time

To extend the time frozen foods maintain good quality, package foods in material intended for freezing (that means proper freezer bags, not just any bag that’s left over from the produce section of the grocery store). Keep the temperature of the freezer at 0 degrees F or below. It is generally recommended frozen vegetables be eaten within about 8 months for best quality.”

Buying the Best Canned Tomatoes

(From this point onward, I need to extend an apology to my world wide audience. The following reviews are based on canned tomatoes available in the United States. I would love it if any of my overseas readers could add in the comment section what canned tomatoes they could recommend from their country of origin. Thanks!)

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All canned tomatoes are not the same. One should not dismiss canned tomatoes if the first brand you try does not meet your standards. There are many to choose from. Please keep in mind that some brands may have superior canned whole tomatoes but their “roasted” canned tomatoes are rated inferior. This is one purchase where you really need to read the label carefully!

Chris Kimbal, over at America’s Test Kitchens, provides a useful guide. One of the many wonderful things they do at America’s Test Kitchen is test ingredients.

Here is a quick summary of their recommendations on what canned tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and tomato puree they recommend:

WHOLE CANNED TOMATOES- HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:

  1. PROGRESSO Italian-Style Whole Peeled Tomatoes with Basil
  2. REDPACK Whole Peeled Tomatoes in Thick Puree
  3. HUNT’S Whole Tomatoes

DICED TOMATOES- HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

  1. MUIR GLEN Organic Diced Tomatoes
  2. REDPACK Diced Tomatoes (REDGOLD on the West Coast)

TOMATO PUREE RECOMMENDED

  1. HUNT’S: “Nice and thick,” “tomatoey.”
  2. PROGRESSO: “Thick,” “tastes kind of fresh.”
  3. CENTO: “Balanced, good flavor,” “slightly bitter.”
  4. MUIR GLEN: “Thick and strong,” “good flavor.”
  5. PASTENE: “Fresh tasting, “tinny.”
  6. REDPACK: “Velvety smooth texture, “very acidic.”
  7. CONTADINA: “Good balance,” “slightly sour.”
  8. RIENZI: “Vegetable flavor,” “very thin.”

If you would like a more in depth description of America’s Test Kitchen Review, head on over to America’s Test Kitchen and sign in! Thanks ATK!

(Note: America’s Test Kitchen is a fabulous site but not everything is available for free. To have complete access to ATK you will need to pay an annual fee.)

Links to Some Great Tomato Recipes!

Fresh basil is fragrant and delicious! My Marinara Sauce uses canned tomatoes with a nice big bunch of fresh basil. You can wash fresh basil the same way you wash lettuce.

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One of the easiest ways to use tomatoes is in Insalata Caprese, an Italian salad that combines tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil and olive oil. It’s that simple!

A basic Tomato Sauce Recipe can be made and frozen for future use.

Home made Tomato Soup is surprising easy to make and it is m-m-m-m good!

When summer is bursting with fresh tomatoes and high temperatures, cold Gazpacho is a filling and refreshing soup.

Pasta Salad is the perfect meal to enjoy all year round. Bow-tie pasta, salami, olives, green onions, feta or goat cheese, and of course tomatoes make this salad a summer favorite!

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This one’s got a long name, but it’s so mouth-wateringly delicious-sounding that I have to tell you the whole thing: Tomato and Fresh Basil Crostini (toast) with Feta and Roasted Garlic Cheese Spread…mmm. A great appetizer similar to bruschetta.

Tomato pie in a flaky pastry crust is a classically southern way to enjoy your garden’s abundance of tomatoes. (Emily’s pie used peeled tomatoes and it looks delicious!)

Tomatoes stuffed with rice are an easy and elegant dish to serve your summer dinner party guests. Try adding vegetables, sausage pieces, or ground beef to your rice mixture.

Fried green tomatoes are another classically southern dish. Green tomatoes have a tangier taste than red ones, and when breaded and fried, they make a crispy and fresh appetizer, addition to sandwiches, or side for crab cakes.

Don’t forget about the classic BLT sandwich!

Taboule (shown below) will keep you cool because there’s no cooking involved! Plus, with fresh flavors like tomato, lemon, and mint, you can’t go wrong.

Cheers!

Kathy

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Spaghetti Squash

print recipe card posted in Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces by Kathy Maister
Difficulty:

There are many varieties of squash available at the grocery store and farm stands. Spaghetti squash, also know as calabash squash or vegetable spaghetti, is really quite unique because when cooked looks like thin translucent strands of thin spaghetti. It has a mild, delicate flavor somewhat like that of yellow summer squash and watery texture.

Spaghetti squash has a rounded shape and can vary in weight and size. The ones I bought weighed almost four pounds and were about 9 inches long.

When you buy spaghetti squash, it should have a nice lemon yellow color. If it is green it means that it is under ripe.

Washing and Cleaning Spaghetti Squash

Begin by washing the squash with a vegetable brush under running water.

Dry it well so that it does not slip when you are cutting into the squash.

To cut spaghetti squash you need a big, heavy kitchen knife. Cut the squash in half, lengthwise.

Cutting the squash is the most difficult part of preparing the squash! It is like making that first cut into a melon, which can be tricky if you are not using a knife that can handle the task.

Once open, you can see there are seeds and stringy bits that need to get removed. (Just like with butternut squash or pumpkins.)

Using a spoon, scrape away the seeds and stringy bits….

…until the inside is clean.

Cooking Spaghetti Squash

I’m going to show you how to roast spaghetti squash in the oven and also how to cook it in the microwave. Normally these two cooking methods provide very different results. Roasting vegetables often makes them crispy and brings out their natural sweetness. Surprisingly enough, there is virtually no difference in the taste or texture when spaghetti squash is cooked in the oven vs. the microwave!

Oven Method:

Preheat the oven to 400º F ( = 200º C = gas mark 6-moderately hot.)

Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on cut side of the squash and rub it around with your fingers.

Sprinkle on some salt and pepper.

Place the squash, cut side down in an oven-proof dish.

Depending on the size of your squash, it will take approximately 35-45 minutes to get tender.

Microwave Method:

Place the squash in a microwave-safe dish…

…cut side down.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap…

…being sure to leave a steam vent.

Cook the squash on high for approximately 7-10 minutes – depending on the size of your squash and how powerful your microwave is. If you do not have an automatic turntable in your microwave, give the dish a turn every 3 minutes to ensure even cooking.

Remove the plastic wrap with a pair of tongs and be very careful of the built up steam.

Note: I do not recommend cooking the squash WHOLE in the microwave. Some recipes have you pierce the whole squash about 20 or 30 times with a knife (so the squash does not explode in the microwave). Then stick it in the microwave whole. It is very difficult to cut and remove the seeds and stringy bits from a steaming hot squash.

How to Make the Squash Look Like Spaghetti

Once you have removed the squash from the oven or microwave, check to see if it is cooked by sticking a knife into it. The knife should slide in easily.

If you have over cooked the squash it will taste fine but the texture will be creamy and you will not be able to make the spaghetti like strands.

Flip the squash over with a spatula so that the cut side is facing up. (Be careful as it will be very hot!)

The above photo is of the oven roasted squash

Using a dinner fork, scrape the flesh of the squash….

…moving gently around the shell….

…fluffing up the strands of squash.

Turning the squash into spaghetti strands takes about 10 seconds!

You can then serve the squash as is or remove it to a serving plate. It will be very hot so hold the squash in a dish cloth so you don’t burn your hand.

The above photo is of the microwave cooked squash

Decision time! What do I now do with this squash?

You can eat it as is or dress it up with your favorite spaghetti sauce.

I like to add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese, a drizzle of basil infused olive oil, and some salt and pepper!

Enjoy!

P.S. Just for the heck of it, I tried freezing the leftover spaghetti squash. WRONG! It turned into spaghetti squash mush. It tasted fine but the spaghetti texture did not hold up at all!

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