January 25, 2013

marinara and wine

Blogger's Note: I'm bringing Reading in the Kitchen back in house (easier maintenance). So, I'm posting a couple of the recipes that ran on the other site to have them here. This is post two of four in my attempt to recreate a meal from Nora Roberts' The Villa.

Friends, when I started this Reading in the Kitchen Adventure more than a year ago on Change the Word, I promised to tell you the truth. Well, before I get into today's recipe, I have a truth bomb to drop on you: I'm writing this while finishing the last of a bottle of wine. A bottle of wine I opened to make this dish. The recipe only calls for 1/2 a cup.


Pour one down, pass it around...
I'm going to be celebrating Christmas all
year thanks to this gift from a friend.
I'm telling you this, because I feel like we've reached a point in our relationship where you should know when I've had a bottle of wine before writing a post. You should be aware that if you were here and you light a match, well, I don't know what would happen, but something probably would, because people always say stuff about lighting matches around people when they've had a couple of drinks. What I do know is this post will be pretty darn long, because I'm nothing if not long-winded under the best of circumstances. Put a little wine in me, and I'm writing War and Peace.

(UPDATE: I read this post in the cold, light (dark) of day before it went live and am pleased to say I didn't see enough glaring errors to make me ashamed. So... party on.)

Now, another truth bomb (more like a Captain Obvious Bomb), but it's no secret I've been MIA the past few months. I know, I know. I suck. But I have a plan for 2013. It's what I spent the last month of 2012 putting together, and I'm in it to win it.

(Deep breath) Well I'm glad we got that out of the way. Now who wants to get into our first Reading in the Kitchen post of the new year?

Some of you may remember that last fall (my last attempt at a Reading in the Kitchen post), I made the rather stupid decision to try to make homemade marinara wine sauce, put it in homemade manicotti and serve it before a dessert of (you guessed it) homemade tiramisu.

This did not go well. My wine sauce tasted too crappy red winey (I'm cheap and the wine was cheap so it tasted cheap!), the manicotti was from a box and the tiramisu... just didn't go the way the good Lord intended this dish to be served. I ate the food anyways, but will admit I threw away portions of it, which is never good.

The supplies. See... it's simple... right?
It wasn't completely my fault though. I was basing it all on Nora Robert's The Villa. In it, Sophia's mom, Pilar, is some amazing wunder-woman who can manage this whole meal for a family dinner on a school night. Well, I'm here to tell you that I live in the real world, where women work more than eight hours a day, spend half an hour in traffic both ways and come home wanting to drink the wine, not cook with it!

But, after cursing Pilar and her perfect ways for a few months, I got serious about this business and decided my approach was wrong. Instead of trying to do this all in one day, I needed to break this bitch down. And break it down I have.

So, long story even longer, instead of making this meal in a day, I'm making it in a month. Doing it this way has thus far proven way easier. I'm for serious. The toughest part of making this marinara sauce thus far has been drinking the bottle of wine, then sitting down to write this post. So, what I'm trying to tell you is, spare yourself the trouble and invite a friend over to share the wine. You'll thank me.

So, today, we're making marinara sauce with wine. In the book, she doesn't say a whole heck of a lot about the ingredients in this marinara sauce, but I'd assume there's wine in it. Hello, it takes place on not one, but two vineyards on two continents. Of course Perfect Pilar put booze in her sauce. Now, unlike Perfect Pilar (who is actually quite lovely, I'm just jealous), I don't have vineyards or endless supplies of money to tap into, so I still went cheap on the booze. This time, I did some research.

It's tough to admit it, but both of my broomies pulled through for me on this one sharing their insight. Broomie No. 1 told me how to chop the garlic, without smelling like a piece of Texas Toast after and Broomie No. 2 told me how to cook with wine. Here's how it goes:

Chopping garlic like a pro.
Chop two cloves of garlic. The best way to chop fresh garlic is to smash them, while still in their peels, on your cutting board. Removing the peels is easy after, and chopping even easier. Next, dice half an onion. I don't know about you, but onions are almost always ginormous in the stores these days, so half goes a long ways.

Tip: Do all of your dicing right away before you turn on the stove. Not only does it save you time and prevent you from burning things, but you get the added bonus of not using a knife after you have too much booze in you.

After that, slice up some mushrooms (the single pack you find in a grocery store). I don't cut these up too much, because I like the chunks. Once you have everything sliced and diced, turn the stove on to medium heat. At this point, you can add 2 tablespoons of olive oil or use a non-stick vegetable spray like I did. I chose this route, because it as calorie-free and easy. Once the pan is warm, throw the onions and garlic in there. Now, it only took about a minute or two for this to carmelize when I was cooking. I turned the heat down a little and added the mushrooms. While this cooked down a little, I quickly measured 1/2 cup of white wine. I selected the Blue Fin Viognier from Trader Joe's because it was cheap, from Napa Valley and it was white. Once the the pan was mostly cooked, I poured in the wine and let it simmer, stirring regularly.

Broomie No. 2 shared this tip with me. The first time I made sauce, I poured almost a cup into it and did it while the sauce was cooking. Wine is pretty bitter and so it made the sauce bitter. By adding it early on, you cook out most of the strong taste, but still add a little flavor.

If this was Cribs, I'd be saying, "This is where
the magic happens." Like a boss.
While this cooked, I opened a 6-oz can of tomato past and a 20-oz can of crushed tomatoes. My mom uses diced in her tomato sauce, but I don't like chunks of tomatoes, so the smaller the better for me. At this point, I also sprinkled some crushed red pepper, black pepper and Italian seasoning into the mix on the stove. Fresh is always best, but it's winter, and I live in Nebraska. I know my limits when it comes to fresh herbs.

With in a few minutes, I added the tomatoes and stirred. I brought the heat up temporarily to medium to get the sauce to simmer, then turned it down between low and medium low for 30 minutes. I stirred it a couple of times, but mostly I drank wine. By the time the timer went off, it was ready.

Now, in the meantime, I did what Pilar should have done while she was cooking for a bratty kid who didn't appreciate her. I drank some wine. I drank a lot of wine. But I apparently kept my wits about me enough to keep track of what I put in the food I made, so I'm winning.

While we're on the topic, I have been thinking a lot about the role of a step-parent lately. It seems like a tough job. This is way too deep of a conversation for me right now, but I guess what I'm trying to say is Pilar just scored a bunch of points from me for being able to handle a full course meal and a dick kid.

For the sake of this week, I tried the sauce on a small bed of whole wheat spaghetti and naan. I saved most of it for next week's recipe, which will be homemade manicotti.

This sauce was good. Really good. I thought I might just be a little too buzzed, so I had Broomie No. 1 try it, and he confirmed the goodness. Though it was harder to detect (which was good), the wine added a little flavor and the red pepper some spice. The onions and garlic did their thing, while the mushrooms added heartiness to the dish.

After trying this sauce, I'm sure it will be a staple in my cooking, and I look forward to using it in next week's manicotti.

Yes, I photo-bombed a container of sauce. What's the big deal?
 I'll have a more articulate post with the recipe up this weekend, but until then, I'll leave you with these questions: Do you make your own marinara? If so, what's your favorite ingredient? Do you cook with wine?

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