Tomato-Butter Pasta Sauce

10 04 2010

I decided to get on the boat. This seems to be the food-blogger trendy dish of the year… super simple tomato sauce with spaghetti that’s just canned tomatoes stewed with a whole onion and some butter. Does it live up to the hype? Yes.

There’s a lot of talk going around about this super simple tomato sauce and I felt like I had to give it a shot because there was just no way it could be as good as they said. But damn, it is. I had a bunch of roasted garlic around so I tossed a head of it in to add a little bit more flavor.

The sauce is literally – canned whole tomatoes (San Marzano if you have em), unsalted butter, a whole onion and some salt to taste. Despite the fact that I will literally eat straight hog fat cured and sliced by itself, I still for some reason have this weird aversion to using too much butter… I’m all “oh but too much butter seems so excessive and fatty”… dude, you eat straight pig fat! Shut up and use it! Trust me, it’s worth it. This is like some grown up fancy Chef Boyardee shit. It’s good.

I also busted out some super easy super quick fresh spaghetti the other night so if you really want to impress your date, break out the food processor and let it rip. Once you’ve done it a few times it’s really so easy and so much better that it’s kindof stupid to ever buy noodles again.

Tomato Butter and Onion Pasta Sauce
Adapted from the inter web.

This is like some voodoo magic type shit. It’s so easy and so good it just doesn’t seem right…

1 large can San Marzano whole tomatoes (if you can’t find those just use whatever you can get your hands on)
1 whole onion – yellow, red, white, whatever… I use yellow for just about everything
3-5 tablespoons of unsalted butter, depending on how rich you want it
Salt to taste
I whole head of roasted garlic if you so desire

Slice the onion in half, toss it all in a sauce pan and simmer it for about 40 minutes or so until the tomatoes have broken down. Smash them up with a wooden spoon as you stir it up throughout the cooking. When it’s finished just pull out the onion and it’s ready to go.

The amount of time that it takes for that sauce to simmer is more than enough to make some fresh pasta to pour it over. You’re saving so much work with this sauce, why not give it a worthy base?

My laziness works in funny ways… I was feeling too lazy to bring myself to take a book from the shelf and look up a pasta dough recipe so I just googled for the easiest recipe to divide down to get an egg to flour ratio and then adapted that ratio to what I know works well in dough… the ratio is basically 1 egg per 100 grams of flour – that’s all that is absolutely necessary. The oil makes it easier to work with and the salt helps the flavor.

I use Tipo ’00’ Italian pasta flour but you can just use regular all-purpose flour too or a mixture of that and cake flour. People always claim it makes a big difference but so far I’ve never had anyone spit out their pasta because the flour wasn’t fine enough.

Fresh Basic Pasta Dough

This is a small batch – (about 4 servings) but you can just scale it up as necessary – the beauty of fresh pasta dough is that it’s so flexible and adaptable. Similarly, if you want it richer you can just substitute more egg yolks for some of the whites.

200 grams tipo “00” flour or all-purpose or a mix of all-purpose and cake flour
2 large eggs
About a teaspoon of olive oil
A pinch of salt

Toss the flour in the food processor and then everything else on top. Pulse it until you have crumbles and then dump them onto your counter and knead it into a nice smooth mass. If you don’t have a food processor, make a pile of flour on the counter, make a well in the center and mix the eggs, salt and oil in with a fork. Knead for a couple of minutes to get it all mixed and smooth and then wrap it in plastic and throw it in the fridge for a bit to chill out and stiffen up.

Roll it out with a pasta machine or a rolling pin or a wine bottle or baseball bat… whatever you have. Make sure you flour it well before you start rolling though.

Cut it up with the cutter on your machine or roll the sheets long ways and slice it into noodles.

This whole process can literally be done in a matter of minutes. This pasta, start-to-finish took me about 15 minutes. That’s barely more than it takes to boil dry noodles! You can make the dough while you’re waiting for the water to boil.

Spoon that sauce over your spaghetti and get busy. You can toss on some parm if you want but it really is fine just the way it is. I threw a little pecorino and some black pepper on top.


Fried Tilapia Banh Mi/Torta

10 04 2010

Sandwiches really are a beautiful thing… and when they’re done right they really are perfect in so many ways. I’ve realized that try as I may, I just can’t deny the fact that I love bread – it’s really not possible to make a good sandwich with bad bread… it just isn’t. And similarly, good bread makes a sandwich.

Recently I discovered that the market by my house which carries a large amount of Vietnamese ingredients, happens to sell amazing French rolls that are perfect for banh mi. I’ve always just walked right past them but lately I’ve started taking them up on the too-good-to-be-true seeming 3 for a dollar price.

They also carry lots of fresh fish that usually doesn’t look particularly fresh but on the day I made this sandwich there must have been a good haul because the whole fish were looking particularly clear-eyed. So I grabbed a tilapia – I was making a quick lunch so I didn’t have time to go catch it myself, you know… sorry, Alice!

This sandwich was really more like a banh mi meets torta. Imagine the first interlude on Ms Pacman but with two sandwiches bouncing toward each other… “they meet! <3". Two of my favorite sandwiches, squeezed into one roll. The thing that distinguishes the banh mi from other sandwiches though, is the pickled carrot, daikon and fresh cilantro. Vietnamese and Mexican flavors play really well together… lots of cilantro, lime and heavy heat in both. So I figured I might as well throw some avocado, mayo and lime in there, as if I was making a torta. And I smashed and toasted the bread a little bit too.

But I digress – back to those pickles… the pickled carrots and daikon are what really sets banh mi apart and they are so quick and easy to make it’s crazy. You can use them for so much more than just sandwiches, too. For these I just used the basic sweet vinegar mix I’ve been using that I adapted from D Chang’s Momofuku book. You just julienne the carrots and daikon and toss them in the vinegar mix before you do anything else. By the time you’re ready to put them on the sandwich they’ll have soaked up plenty of flavor and they’ll only get better the longer they sit (within reason… at least a week or so in the fridge).

So after filleting the fish, dredging the fillets in flour and pan frying them, I assembled my masterpiece…

Good slather of mayo on the bread, smashed and toasted for a few minutes in the oven. Sliced avocado spread across the top half, topped with the pickled carrots and daikon. Tilapia fillet on the bottom half topped with fresh cilantro and then all doused with lime juice. Smash together, slice and eat.

The only thing missing was the sliced fresh jalapenos…

Easter Lamb

4 04 2010

Had a little Easter BBQ in the beautiful SF rain today. Roasted a 6lb bone in leg of lamb on the grill, among other things. We did the Easter/Passover mashup with the leg of lamb dueling a nice 5lb brisket on side by side grills.


Rosemary and thyme from the back yard + garlic + salt + lots of crushed black pepper (not pictured). Would have been even better with some oregano and lemon juice but this was what I had so…

Into the food processor + olive oil and gave it a good whack.

Rubbed her down and let it marinate over night…

Roasted over a charcoal fire for around 3.5 hours at fluctuating temps until it was about 140F in the center.

It was almost like prime rib…

GOT Pizza?

2 04 2010

My all time favorite pizza topping combination is bacon onion and tomato. To me it’s the perfect combination of flavors on a pizza. It’s really all about the simplicity and the quality of the ingredients… for this one I used dough from Pizzeria Delfina, roasted garlic, Muir Glen Yolo Gold canned tomatoes, Calabro mozzarella, homemade guanciale, and scallions.

Let’s break it down step by step, one ingredient at a time in order of assembly…

Guanciale Onion Tomato Pizza

Semolina or cornmeal to dust the underside of your dough
Pizza dough – make it, buy it, whatever
Roasted garlic – not absolutely necessary but what isn’t better with garlic?
Tomatoes – canned, sauce, sliced fresh tomatoes… whatever you have – I prefer canned San Marzano or sliced heirlooms
Guanciale – or bacon, pancetta… whatever
Scallions – whites to cook and greens for garnish
Pecorino or hard parmesan – optional but… great
Sea salt – large grain

Dough – the single most important part of the pie. You can’t make pizza without dough – everything else is replaceable.

When I have time I love to make the dough myself… maybe sometime soon I’ll share that one. Recently though, I found out something that’s pretty great when you don’t have time to wait around for your yeast to get it on – many pizza joints will sell you uncooked portioned dough that is ready to go. Just so happens that my two favorite spots for pizza in my hood sell their dough – one is Arinell’s, the best NY style pizza in SF in my opinion, and the other is Delfina, which is constantly touted as one of the best pizza joints in the city. It’s pretty great to grab a ball of dough to use yourself that you know was made right and can get the job done well.

Roasted Garlic – garlic always has a place on pie.

Some people call it garlic confit when they’re trying to make it sound fancier than it really is… it’s just roasted garlic. Whatever you call it doesn’t change the fact that it’s just plain good shit. It’s so easy to make and it transforms strong sticky pungent garlic into a smooth, rich, deep, caramelized garlicky paste

Tomatoes – if you’re making traditional pizza, probably the second most important ingredient.

I love to just use San Marzano canned tomatoes and crush em up with my fingers. This time I tried something else. It’s a pretty funny concept and honestly could be pretty brilliant marketing if it works… they’re treating these tomatoes like wine – Muir Glen Organic Yolo Gold 2009 Reserve. Really? Whatever…

Mozzarella – by no means the only cheese you can use but definitely the traditional choice.

In its many forms, mozzarella always seems to work well on pizza, one way or another. This time I chose this old fashioned Calabro mozzarella. It’s slightly softer than commercial mozz and has a smooth, mild flavor.

Guanciale – The bacon part of this equation can really just be any type of salted pig part… bacon, pancetta, guanciale, ham, prosciutto… the important part is that it’s salty and meaty.

Like bacon, guanciale keeps well for months frozen. Because it’s so fatty and pig fat is such an amazing and delicious substance, it goes from frozen to ready to use pretty much immediately. You don’t have to worry about having to thaw or anything… just take it out, slice it up, toss it in the frying pan and you’re rolling. The ultimate convenience meat – keeps well, tastes great and easy to use. I sliced it thin and fried it like bacon until it crisped up a bit.

Scallions – you can use whatever onions you have… green, white, yellow, red…

I used scallions because I had them – and because I love the versatility… white bottoms cooked onto the pizza and then greens on top after cooking.


I topped it off with a little bit of Pecorino Romano and some large grained sea salt and then, into the oven.

You can crank your oven as high as you want, it won’t ever be as hot as it gets in the ovens they use at pizza joints. So sit your baking stone on the floor of your oven and fire that baby up. If you don’t have a baking stone, flip a baking sheet over and use the bottom of it as a flat surface to cook your pie on. It’ll slide right off.

They gave me the dough in a to-go pizza box so I tossed it back in for a little photo shoot.

Oh and I top it off with Frank’s. I prefer hot sauce to crushed red pepper… it just works.