February 22, 2009

Simple and Rich

The classic things are the most simple, right? Not simplistic, simple. Clean. Thought through. Simplicity arrived at through complexity, until it's clear. Concentrated, a reduction of ideas to their essence.

I've been watching the new TED talks at ted.com - including Elizabeth Gilbert's struggle with her craft. And the soaring optimism of Jose Abreu, and El Sistema which puts a musical instrument in the hands of every Venezuelan child over the last 25 years, and has created a whole nation of music. And then a friend loaned me her copy of David Sedaris' "When You are Engulfed in Flames", whom I love and mostly because he makes complex observations so simply. And through me runs this quote that I've quoted before and can't get away from..."Simplicity is not a goal, but one arrives at simplicity in spite of oneself, as one approaches the real meaning of things." Constantin Brancusi, the Romanian sculptor and a leader in modernist sculpture.

I have a theory. And I came to this theory wandering through the Tate Modern in London. My appreciation of art (and I am completely untrained in art), my opinion of it, is inversely proportional to the explanation next to it. In other words, the longer the text has to be to tell me what the artist "means" to "say", the longer my eye roll. I usually walk away completely irritated, whispering to the muse that helped that artist, "get over yourself." As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her TED talk, some people can have muses that are, frankly, lame.

Cooking can give you the same blast of poetry or frustration - and I most admire the food that delivers beautiful taste, balance with as little fuss as possible.

Last night, as the snow and the temperature fell again, and as we gathered round our table to pull together the warmth and humour and stories of our companions, I made something simple. Tomato sauce. It is so simple. So rich. And it doesn't take hours to simmer. Probably the best tomato sauce I have ever made...and I have made tomato sauce every week for the last number of years. I am sold on this one.

It comes from Cook's Illustrated - which I adore for their addiction to the how and why of cooking - oh, and their beautiful cover art. It comes from their 2006 issue, but I found it online when I watched them make it on their video series. I gave it a try and it was great. Then I made it again yesterday for our friends. I watched them get up from the table and get seconds, and the pot was empty when we started washing the dishes. So much for leftovers to get through this recession.

Marinara Sauce - adapted from Cook's Illustrated

2 - 28oz cans of whole tomatoes, with juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
2 medium garlic cloves, minced finely
1/2 tsp dried oregano (I used a tad more)
1/3 cup of dry red wine (I used a merlot we had kicking around)
3 tbsp fresh basil chopped
salt, pepper and sugar to taste (add this toward the end, once you've determined what the tomatoes need)

Pour the tomatoes into a strainer over a large bowl. Let drain for five minutes or so. Using your hands, pull out the stem and core of the tomatoes. Set aside 3/4 cup of the tomatoes. Also set aside 2 1/2 cups of the liquid.

Heat olive oil in a skillet until shimmering and cook the onion until brown on the edges - about 6-8 mins. Then add the garlic and oregano and cook for about 30 seconds - until the garlic is hitting your nose.

Add the strained tomatoes and cook over medium high until all the liquid has disappeared and the tomatoes are creating a fond, sticking to the bottom of the pan slightly. This is the core of the issue here...the concentration of these tomatoes is unbelievable. This takes about 10-12 mins. Keep an eye, and keep stirring every so often.

Add the wine and stir while it thickens for about a minute, scraping up the bits off the bottom. Then add the tomato juice you reserved earlier. Bring it to a simmer and let cook for about 8-10 minutes. I turned off the sauce at this point to wait for our friends to arrive.

The recipe calls for pulling out the food processor. But when I was getting ready to serve and had the pasta boiling away, I reheated the sauce, added the fresh tomatoes I had reserved from before and just mashed them in with my trusty manual potato masher. The fresh tomatoes add a lovely texture and lightness. Add the fresh basil (nice as a garnish on top as well).

This is the time to test for salt, pepper and sugar.

Serve over pasta - we grated a little fresh parmesan on top...and whammo...it all disappeared.

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