Of April Showers, Spring flowers, Sickness + Sauce.

Caught in the act of taking photos of a simmering pot of pasta sauce, my son Jared said to me, “You must really be sick if you’re giving up the recipe for the sauce.”

Yeah, I’m sick. Sick and tired of sitting inside, while the world turns, and life goes on, as I wait out a lingering virus. But, pulling from my Romper Room roots, I’m a good do-bee, and my doctor said, two weeks, so two weeks it will be. Well sorta. Today is day 8. That counts, right?

Here’s what I’ve learned while being an impatient patient. I have the best family in the world, and the best friends. Food, flowers, magazines, candy, baked goods, visits, lots of texts, calls, and techno-pings of all varieties. That’s a lot of love. Yes, I’m very lucky.

This morning, in order to assuage my inner-antsy I went all Ansel Adams. How much energy could snapping a few pictures take? Not much. And it was a lot of fun. The world outside my door was awash in some much needed rain, making for a beautiful, glistening still life. An hour later, I had photographed, edited and created this collage. Then I looked at the clock. It was 10 am. Only 5 hours left until my afternoon nap.

Okay, I thought, I’ll have another cup of coffee while I think of something to occupy myself.

Last Saturday, on the eve of THE VIRUS, we had invited over our friends, the Browns, for dinner. Grilled pizza topped with every manner of spring vegetable was on the menu, and our overstuffed refrigerator proved it. Now, those same veggies, looking a little worse for a week’s wear after languishing in the fridge, greeted me as I scavenged for skim milk for my coffee. Sad and droopy, their countenance said, are you sacrificing us to a case of the Shingles?

That’s it, I thought. Enough is enough. What will really make me sick is throwing away all those beautiful spring greens and creams and browns masquerading as artichokes, asparagus, and mushrooms. You may never be pizza, I told them, but with a little ingenuity, you’ll be something more delicious than compost. Then I told myself, don’t get fancy, just break ‘em down until you get tired.

By noon, I have a pan (my beloved enameled cast iron Le Creuset, the oval gratin) of deliciously fragrant shitake mushrooms roasting in the oven in garlic, thyme and bay leaves; and a salsa verde with mint, basil, parsley, and arugula packed away for use this week. In short order, I will have a pot of pasta sauce simmering on the stove, filling the house with its sweet perfume, teasing us ’til dinner time. All this and a clean refrigerator. Things are looking up.

By the way, how could I not throw together a little red sauce? Come on, it’s Sunday, for goodness’ sake.

For me, a little red sauce is a lot of red sauce. My pot of choice is a 9 1/2 quart Le Creuset oval french oven in classic flame. In our house, that’s a month’s supply. So, if you make the recipe, plan accordingly. I like to freeze mine in one quart Mason jars. If you put them in the freezer upright, they won’t spill and will thaw beautifully when you’re ready to use them. Don’t fill them up too high, though, or the lid will blow off when the sauce expands while freezing.

Gravy, sugo, marinara, ragú or red sauce. Call it what you will. Everybody makes tomato sauce. Mine is rich with olive oil, redolent with lots of chopped garlic, and robust with red pepper flakes. Add tomatoes and salt and you’re pretty much a ladle away from a very satisfying plate of pasta.

My sons like to fill a small juice glass with sauce and drink it. They love it that much. Their own red sauce shooter if you like. (With this sauce, they never wish they had a V-8.)

San Marzano tomatoes are essential: they’re sweet and have great texture. I start with whole plum peeled San Marzano tomatoes, and use an immersion blender to puree to a consistency I like. What can I say, I’m a control freak. (By the way, if you don’t have an immersion blender, you’re missing out. They’re handy, versatile, and easy to store and clean. A cook’s version of a power drill. Once you have one, you’ll never be able to live without it.)

Now, its nap time. But unlike Robin Leach, who expounds on champagne wishes and caviar dreams, I nod off content with the well-wishes of good friends and dreams of red sauce and a clean refrigerator.

Tell me about your red sauce. Do you use meat? Have a secret ingredient? Try to recreate one from your childhood or a favorite restaurant? I’d love to hear about it.

Linda’s Red Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 8 32 oz. cans of San Marzano whole plum tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 16 – 20 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • generous 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbs. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Place large (at least 9 quarts) heavy sauce pan over medium high heat.
  2. Add olive oil. When hot, add garlic, red pepper flakes, bay leaves and sauté until garlic is just golden in color. Take care, garlic can go from golden to burned very quickly.
  3. Carefully, to avoid splatter, add two of the 8 cans of tomatoes. Stir ingredients until combined.
  4. Add remaining cans of tomatoes, stirring again until combined.
  5. Continue to cook on medium high heat, until tomatoes come to the boil.
  6. Reduce heat to low/simmer. Add salt and fresh pepper.
  7. Simmer 2 hours, cool to room temperature, and using immersion blender, pureé to desired consistency.
  8. Refrigerate and use within ten days, or jar and freeze for future use.

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