Echoes and Mementos

Thoughts and pictures about cooking, eating, reading, writing, and living.

Tag: garlic

Greenness and Grass

Today, on the way back from Sunday brunch in Chinatown, I picked up, among other groceries, a jar of wild blueberry jam. Thoughts of work were sailing in like storm clouds. As I often do with food, I wondered about the jam, about the snug rural place it came from, and about the guy who picks blueberries all day.

When I see honey, I imagine the beekeeper. When I read on a menu that a beer has been brewed by monks since 1634, as in the case with Paulaner Salvator, I imagine the monks in their high stone fortress stirring beer with paddles. And today, when I saw in Little Italy a package of penne made by La Terra e Il Cielo, I didn’t imagine anything at all. I remembered. Harvesting grain, chaffing the kernels, driving them to the pasta factory. It is strange to wonder back to yourself.

I once worked at La Terra e Il Cielo, a cooperative of farmers farming mostly in Le Marche, Italy. In fact, I was there for the co-op’s 30th anniversary, and we ate roasted goose and drank verdicchio, the wine of the region, in a castle that would satisfy any beer-brewing monk. There it was, the pasta on the shelf; and there I was, the sun high, the breeze rustling, the tractor rumbling, and my gloves on tight.

When you imagine what it’s like for the guy who picks blueberries, who grows garlic, who brews beer, who serves that beer on a cruise ship, or who makes a living from writing about that beer, there are no clouds, only beaming sunlight. But the beer can go flat, and plenty of cruise ships make their last stop on the ocean floor. With my gloves on tight and the smell of mint blowing in from the woods, I couldn’t see a cloud, only rows and rows of garlic, the bulbs so present I could taste them in the air and, later, would have to throw out my clothes.

But you return to the jam, the honey, the pasta. Work looms. If those wondered about places always seem green and sunny, it’s because some of them are.

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Winter Marinara

When I visit the house where I was raised, the smell of simmering tomatoes often greets me before my family does. There it hangs, thinly as I twist the doorknob, and thickly in the yellow hallway, an assault on the senses. If you focus you can see it, the smell. It’s the same smell that, when I was a teenager, would awake me in the late morning, though my room was a floor above the kitchen and on the house’s far side.

Aromatics, tomatoes, and a long simmer give the sauce its strong smell. If you dissect the inner framework of a wall or the sandy shingles of that house, you will find, I am sure, the residue of garlic and plum tomatoes. If you live in an apartment, as I do, expect your neighbors to glance at you in the hallway with the dim hope of a dinner invite.

I use canned tomatoes for a winter marinara. We can shape the sauce’s character by tinkering with these tomatoes. For a chunky and rustic sauce, pour the plum tomatoes and their juices into the blender and pulse 5 or 6 times. For a silky smooth sauce, run the blender for 30 seconds. Also, I add no herbs. We can add other flavors later depending on what we’re cooking.

Four quarts of sauce result from the long  simmer. I recommend trying the recipe on a Sunday, for the leftover sauce will give you nice momentum into the week. On Sunday night, I’ll toss the stuff with pasta and flash-fried calamari and have a main course. You can remix the leftover sauce into eggplant parm, pizza, bean and zucchini dishes, the beginnings of a tomato-based soup, or whatever you want.

Makes 1 Quart

¼ cup             olive oil

3                    medium onions, chopped

4                    garlic cloves, minced

1 28-oz. can   tomato purée

1 28-oz. can   whole plum tomatoes and their juices, pulsed 5 or 6 times

1) Put olive oil and onions in a large, non-reactive pot over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, cook for 10-12 minutes, until onions are translucent.

2) Add garlic. Stirring often, and being mindful not to burn the garlic, for the fragments will fast turn brown and bitter, cook the garlic for some 90 seconds, until pieces are golden.

3) Add tomato purée. Add the pulsed plum tomatoes from the blender. Stir. When the sauce starts to simmer, switch the heat to medium-low. Let slowly simmer for three to four hours, stirring at 10-15 minute intervals, and dipping in bread when you wish.