With temperatures in New York finally dipping into the 30’s, for the first time since last winter, it’s time to make sauce. Sauce means you know what you’re having for dinner before you eat breakfast. Sauce is that fabulous smell of slowing simmering tomatoes that permeates the entire house. Sauce is when eight friends drop by and there’s plenty for everyone. The recipe that follows contains the secrets of the grandmas. You can thank me by inviting me over; I’ll bring Hoboken bread.
A few thoughts: San Marzano tomatoes are the only ones to use, but read labels carefully. Many brands claim “San Marzano Style” on the can, then you read the fine print to find out they are grown and canned in Secaucus. Next, buy fresh herbs. They’re available year-round and fresh are 100% better than dried. Finally, cookware does matter. Typical for city apartments, I don’t have a lot of space for kitchen gear, but the few pots and sautés I have are All-Clad or Le Creuset. They cost twice as much, but they last for decades and food really does taste better. When cooking—similar to marketing—it’s best to take the long view.
Ingredients: Onion, garlic, carrots, thyme, 5 cans of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes, 2 lbs ground pork.
1. First thing you do: put on Sinatra. Trust me, it helps. Then, in a large stockpot, add a good amount of olive oil, a diced onion, as many sliced cloves of garlic as you like, and a good amount of red pepper flakes. A few minutes later, push the onions and garlic to the outside edges of the pot, add some oil to the center if it seems dry, add two shredded carrots and a palmful of fresh thyme. (Growing up, my Mom would just throw a whole carrot in and remove it later, but I’m a shredder.) Let the carrots cook down for a few minutes, eventually incorporating everything together.
2. Push everything to the outer edges again, and add the pork to the center. Let it cook thoroughly, carmelizing on the bottom of the pot. Browning 2 lbs of meat, unrushed, could easily take 20 minutes, so don’t rush it. Lots of flavor comes from this process.
3. After nearly a half hour, when all the pork is dark brown and the bottom of the pot has burned bits of meat, deglaze with a few glugs of wine. Scrape the bottom of the pot to pick up all the delicious bits. Add 5 cans of whole tomatoes. Raise the heat so it comes to a boil, but frequently stir so nothing burns. Smash some of the whole tomatoes with your spoon or your hands, breaking them open. Once the tomatoes get hot, turn the fire down so the sauce reduces to a simmer and let it go for a good two hours. At the end, once a lot of the water has cooked down, you can add salt and a few more red pepper flakes to taste. Basil is a good addition, too. Shut the fire off, let it just sit and cool for a few hours. Open some wine, call your friends, tell them to bring dessert.