Monday, September 26, 2005

"Henry Says, 'Don't Let the Sauce Stick!'"

I have accomplished the unthinkable. I used to believe I could only make tomato sauce on a weekend, when I had the broad scope of an empty, work-free day in which to tinker and toil and fry and boil.

I have proven this this theory to be false. At 6:53 p.m. earlier tonight, I began opening cans of crushed tomatoes while, on my TV, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci drove along an upstate New York highway with a somewhat-less-than-dead Frank Vincent in the trunk. By 9:20, the film was over, the sauce was simmering — strained and filled with beef, pork, and meatballs — and Al Michaels and John Madden were introducing the lineup for the Denver Broncos.

I had purchased meat from Whole Foods this Saturday, with the thought of making my mighty sauce (as fantasized about here) on Sunday. A few factors conspired against me. First, the Jets game was a 1:00 affair, which was a prime opportunity for me to crank out some time on the aerobics machines at the gym while watching whatever befell to our hapless boys in green. Second, I stayed up way too late on Saturday night — mostly reading on the damn Internet — which led me to wake up later than I would have liked. And I had my usual dinner plans at my parents' house that night, which was going to be combined with doing laundry there . . . so it was in my interest to get there a little early. Checking the Jets' schedule might have served me well. But this is my sauce we're talking about here!! I haven't settled down with a meaty dish of pasta or chicken parmigiana or a meatball hero for a couple of months! No way in hell am I using that jarred shit when I can conjure gallons of scarlet goodness with just a few hours' effort!

By the time I stepped off the train tonight, the only question in my mind was which movie to pop in while I cast my spell.

This turned out to be Goodfellas. I had initially slotted The Godfather Part II, but for some reason my VCR is not cooperating with my TV. This may be a sign to me from the electronics gods to upgrade my Godfather trilogy to disc. Maybe at the next paycheck. I am in no rush; this batch of sauce will last a while. So in the interest of speed, I started the film that SHOULD HAVE SWEPT the Academy Awards for 1990 instead of that Dances With Wolves fuckery, grabbed six cans of tomatoes, and began crackin' em open.

I tend to get the Tuttorosso blue-label 2-pound cans of whole peeled plum tomatoes for my sauce. But the company recently scrambled the colors of their labels, so now the blue label is for crushed tomatoes in thick puree. As long as they didn't crush the seeds into the mix, I figured, I would be fine. My mother once tried to puree the tomatoes after she had let them simmer down instead of straining them, and the seeds got chopped up in the mix and turned it pink. Ugh. Needless to say, this experiment was not repeated.

Fortunately, the puree in the cans featured intact seeds, so I wouldn't be making a suspiciously strawberry-like sauce. In fact, this turned out to be a bonus. Normally, I let the plum tomatoes break down over the course of 90 minutes, then strain them. In this case, 30 minutes to warm them up was all I needed. Once they'd boiled down a bit, I strained them in record time with a fraction of the mess in the form of seeds and pulp. So I was ahead of the game.

One surprising setback came when I broke out the meat. I had purchased two center-cut pork chops, a hunk of London broil beef, and two 1-pound flats of ground beef for meatballs. When I pulled one of these flats out, it was brown! What the hell? They were both in date, and from Whole Foods no less, which I associate with a finer class of meat. Even when I cut into it, it was brown inside as well. In retrospect, I feel fortunate that the meat tilted its hand so early, so to speak. Whatever turned it so swiftly might have been strong enough to survive the relentless frying and boiling to which I subjected the rest of the meat . . . and I have a less-than-illustrious history of food poisoning whose details I shall spare you for now. The other flat was fine, so I diced up the pork and beef, got it browning in some spices and olive oil, and made meatballs with the single pound of ground beef. I did managed to get a good 20 or so out of the package, which with the other meat looked like it would be plenty.

I have to say, I am impressed with the result. I just took some time to ladle out the sauce. Deep red, smooth but thick, with lovely chunks of meat that have spent 90 minutes releasing their essence into the sauce. I got 11 pints out of this batch, which should hold me for a good while. I am waaaay past my bedtime, though, so work tomorrow is going to be something of a death march, Still, considering what I will come home to by way of dinner, it will be worth it. Definitely beats the hell out of the ketchup and egg noodles Henry Hill describes being given at the end of Goodfellas when he asked for spaghetti and marinara sauce in his hick-town witness-relocation exile.


Trish said...

Dear lord. I just made my own sauce tonight! It was definitely not as impressive as yours sounds but hell, at least it's not from a jar! I'm having peeps over for stuffed shells tomorrow night and wanted to impress them with my homemade masterpiece. Rock on, brotha! :)

Schizohedron said...

What a coincidence! I like that wavelength. Stuffed shells sound like a great idea. I've done those at home, as well as manicotti. They're also well suited to freezing and oven-heating on subsequent nights. I tested out my batch tonight on capellini. It came out nicely for such a drop-everything rapid cooking process compared to my usual afternoon-spanning sprawl.

Good luck with the guests -- tell 'em to hit an Italian bakery if you've got one nearby and snag some dessert!!