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In old cookbooks all first courses were called Minestre, which now means soups, and added the word Asciutte (dry) to show they were talking about pasta, risotto, gnocchi, and so on.

Dino’s Marinara Sauce

A while back Dino Romano took me to task for linking to a modern Italian (in Italian) tomato sauce recipe that took liberties he was right to object to, saying:

“Even Neapolitans, known for some departures when it comes to plain tomato sauce, wouldn’t use parsley and oregano AND onion mixed with garlic in a sauce.

“I’ve noticed over the past ten or fifteen years that the ‘younger’ generation of Italian food writers have begun to truly bastardize so much of traditional Italian cooking that it has come to look and sound like the convoluted workings seen on American television cooking programs. Now THAT is a shame.

“A very traditional recipe (prepared in the best kitchens, both North and South in Italy) for ‘Marinara,’ a word which is indeed derived from that fact that a sailor or Marinaro would easily cook this meatless dish on board ship, was prepared virtually daily at our farm in Lexington, MA when we were growing up. One version included the entire tomato, and the other pureed tomatoes with the seeds and skin removed. It was best when our eleven acres of trellis tomatoes were in season. We moved from Sicily to the U.S. in the early sixties and my father farmed until just a couple of years ago. My cousins are still farming the same land, which was recently pegged by an historian as having been farmed continuously since the early 1700’s.”

And here are the marinara sauces he sent me

The whole tomato recipe first:

  • Ten pounds of VERY ripe tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Black Pepper
  • Fresh Basil
  • Pecorino Romano Cheese, grated
  • Pasta

Chop the washed tomatoes into small cubes (to reduce the area and cooking time).

Sautée ten or fifteen large garlic cloves in olive oil until they are dark golden.

Add chopped tomatoes and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to avoid burning or sticking.

Pour in an additional quarter cup of oil (or more according to taste).

Add salt, a heavy dusting of black pepper and about three tablespoons of sugar (depending on the acidity of the tomato you can use less or no sugar).

Lower heat to medium and cook uncovered, stirring regularly, until all fluid is thickened. THIS SHOULD NOT TAKE FOUR HOURS BUT MORE LIKE A HALF HOUR. Why people insist on torturing tomato sauce on a stove for half a day is beyond me — we call it the “Nonna syndrome.”

Remove from heat and immediately add a large quantity of fresh chopped basil.

Cook pasta extra al dente and drain.

Add pasta back to pan and add five or six ladles of tomato sauce to the pasta and stir over a medium heat until sauce and pasta are thickened.

Serve each plate with an additional ladle full of sauce on top and a drizzling of fresh cold olive oil and a heaping of Pecorino Romano.

The Pureed Tomato Version:

Same as above except that initially you cut tomatoes in half, put into a large pan and heat until softened, not necessarily boiling.

Run all the heated tomatoes through a Foley Food Mill to remove skin and seeds. It is important to run the tomato skins back through the mill three or four times to get all the richness out of them. This is where the flavor is.

This mixture may be utilized immediately to make the above Marinara or stored in the refrigerator to be used as needed to make a completed sauce of any type marinara or meat sauce.

It can also be jarred immediately and stored for over a year. It is important to put a large sprig of basil into the unadulterated puree before sealing.

O.K., hope I haven’t offended anyone by putting my two cents worth in. Keep up the great work.

Regards,
Dino Romano

When I asked Dino for permission to publish his recipes, he replied,

“Please feel free to publish my recipe for simple ‘marinara.’ You might want to add that there is a parallel, sister version to this recipe where the garlic is NOT browned but put in completely raw. The method with which one introduces garlic makes for completely different flavor in just about any dish. Another version of garlic introduction to this marinara is fresh, uncooked garlic introduced with the fresh basil at the end.”

What more can I say, other than Grazie Dino! Actually, I can say something more: Dino has begun to work with The Pasta Channel, and presents a version of his Marinara Sauce beginning with canned tomatoes (preferably without citric acid added), which will be perfect when sun-ripened tomatoes are not available.

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Salsa di Pomodoro alla Napoletana, Neapolitan Tomato Sauce

Fusilli Col Ferro With Tomato Sauce

Fusilli Col Ferro With Tomato Sauce

Though slow-cooking pomarola is quite tasty, there are times you’ll want something quicker, and then this classic Neapolitan sauce comes into play. It’s perfect for pasta, but will also work well with rice or pizza. To make a jar of sauce you will need:

  • 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) ripe plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) olive oil
  • 12 fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Set a large pot full of water to boil. Meanwhile, wash the tomatoes and remove the brownish patches where the stems were attached using a sharp-pointed knife. Dump the tomatoes into the boiling water, blanch them for about a minute, and then run enough cold water into the pot so you can pick out the tomatoes without burning yourself. Peel the tomatoes, discarding their skins, seed them, slice them, and put them in a bowl. When you are done heat the oil and the garlic in another pot – traditionalists prefer terracotta – and stir in the chopped tomatoes before the oil garlic begins to crackle. Season with salt and pepper, simmer over a low flame for 10 minutes, stir in the basil leaves, simmer for five more minutes, and it’s done.

Figure about 1/4 cup of sauce (or more to taste) and 1/4 pound of pasta per serving; serve the pasta with grated cheese on the side.

Note: To keep the sauce from becoming heavy, it’s very important that the oil not get too hot before you add the tomatoes. Also, some Neapolitan cooks of the older generation made this sauce using lard rather than olive oil.

Pomarola, Tuscan Tomato Sauce

Ravioli With Tomato Sauce

Ravioli alla Pomarola

Come mid-summer, Italian markets sell freshly picked sun-ripened plum tomatoes by the case (10 k, or 22.5 pounds) and Italians snap them up, because there’s no dish quite so refreshing on a hot day as a bowl of pasta seasoned with lots of freshly made pomarola and a handful of grated cheese.

This classic Tuscan recipe expands well, and most households make gallons of it when the flood of tomatoes reaches its peak in August and tomato prices drop. A last thing: If you get a hankering for pomarola before tomato season begins, you can use canned plum tomatoes – you’ll probably want to sauté the herbs in this case.

  • 3 pounds (1.5 k, and if they’re watery, you will want more) plum tomatoes, cored and cut into pieces
  •  A clove of garlic
  •  A stick of celery about 6 inches long
  •  A small carrot
  •  A quarter of a medium onion
  •  A small bunch of parsley
  •  A fresh or dried hot pepper, with the seeds discarded (optional)
  •  Olive oil
  •  Salt and pepper to taste
  •  A scant half teaspoon of sugar (optional)
  •  A bunch of basil

Pomarola can be made either with or without sautéing the other vegetables.

If you sauté them it will be richer, and if the tomatoes aren’t vine ripened, you may want to. However, the sautéing does curb the tomatoey taste of the sauce, so if your tomatoes are of the really good vine-ripened variety, you will want to forgo it. Also, pomarola made without sautéing is easier to digest.

If you do decide to sauté, begin by mincing the onion, garlic, celery, carrot, red pepper, and parsley. Sauté them in a quarter cup of olive oil; meanwhile, cut up the tomatoes. As soon as the onion has turned translucent, add the tomatoes and a teaspoon or so of salt to the pot, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, till the tomatoes begin to fall apart.

If you decide not to sauté, place the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, pepper, cut up tomatoes, and parsley in a pot, add just a few drops of water, and simmer till the tomatoes begin to fall apart.

Regardless of the procedure you chose, once the tomatoes are cooked, you should crank the pomarola through a food mill, discarding the skins and seeds. Or, if you’d rather, puree the sauce in a food processor. If you do, you may want to add a half teaspoon of sugar to counter the tartness of the tomato skins (many Italians do). In either case, check the seasoning and return the sauce to the fire until it has thickened, and a drop put on a plate no longer gives off a huge watery halo (depending on how water the sauce was to begin with, this can take up to an hour).

When the sauce is done, stir in the basil leaves and turn off the heat. Transfer the sauce at once to clean jars, sealing each from the air by pouring a thin layer of olive oil over the sauce. Screw the lids onto the jars, and once they have cooled, refrigerate them. If you decide to expand the recipe, fill a couple of jars for immediate use. Put the rest in sterilized canning jars with lids that seal, put the filled jars in a canning pot with water to cover, and boil them gently for an hour before removing them and letting them cool. Check the seals of the lids before putting the jars in your pantry.

Using your pomarola: Figure about a quarter cup of pomarola and a quarter pound of pasta per serving. After you’ve cooked and drained the pasta, stir in the pomarola and – if you want – a dab of butter, then serve it with freshly grated Parmigiano (or pecorino romano if you cannot get fresh Parmigiano). For a variation, heat the pomarola over the stove, and, assuming that you’re serving four people, stir in a half cup of fresh cream when it begins to bubble. When the sauce is heated through, use it to season your pasta, which is now Rosé.

Paste all’Ammiraglio, or Tomatoey Pasta Salad

This was a standby of Adriana Lotti, who was head of staff at the academic program my father directed for a number of years in Rome. It requires first-rate sun-ripened tomatoes and is wonderful when the weather is hot.

  • 1 pound ripe plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons salted or pickled capers, rinsed
  • 5 leaves coarsely torn basil (or to taste)
  • Olive oil (about a quarter cup, or to taste)
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • 1 pound penne or other short pasta, cooked until al dente in lightly salted water, drained, and cooled by running cold water over the colander.

Combine the ingredients, check seasoning, and chill. This is, as you have no doubt noted, extremely simple. Feel free to modify it, for example by adding pitted black olives as well. Another option, which would make it into a full meal (specially if served with a green salad) rather than a picnic accompaniment, would be a half pound of shredded mozzarella.

Mix well and check seasoning before you serve it.

This pasta salad will serve 4-6. What to serve with it? Depends; if it’s quite hot a lightly chilled Lambrusco will be wonderful, as will a light white wine, for example a Colli Albani. So will water or beer.

Pappa al Pomodoro

Pappa Al Pomodoro

Pappa Al Pomodoro

Pappa al Pomodoro sounds like kid’s food, and it is — for kids of all ages. In the past it was also very much a homey dish, a tasty way to use up leftover bread that no housewife would have dreamed of serving to a guest. Now it’s on the menus of Florence’s trendier restaurants.

  • 1 small onion, finely sliced
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1-2 crumbled dried hot peppers (go easy, you want a little heat, but not too much)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 pound blanched, peeled, and sliced sun-ripened plum tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • A 1-pound (500 g) loaf of stale Tuscan bread
  • Hot water as necessary
  • Freshly chopped basil for garnishing

Sauté the onion and the garlic in the oil, and when they’re lightly browned, add the tomatoes, hot peppers, and the tomato paste. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the tomatoes have fallen apart.

While the tomatoes are cooking, slice or break the bread into 3-4 pieces and soak them in a bowl of cool water for a minute or two, then remove them, squeeze out the excess moisture, and crumble them into the tomatoes. Do the crumbling and adding a piece at a time; you want to add enough bread to have a dish with body, but not so much bread as to overwhelm the tomato flavor of the sauce.

Stir the mixture over a low flame for a few minutes, until it thickens. Turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for fifteen minutes. Serve sprinkled with freshly chopped basil and good olive oil on the side. It’s better made a day ahead and reheated.