Wow! My first blog post. Here goes!
Let’s rewind about 15 years. I was studying language at a summer program in Italy. I lived with a lovely single mother Serena and her two daughters in a little apartment in Florence. Serena’a place was small, cluttered, and always smelled delicious. It was worlds away from my spotless Long Island kitchen, where the oven was used strictly on holidays and my mom’s specialty involved a box of Bisquick.
Watching Serena cook for the family was fascinating to me. While her daughters bounced around her, she’d nonchalantly glug some olive oil in a pan, sizzle a few garlic cloves then pour in a can of tomatoes and a handful of basil. Then she’d throw the lid on the pot and hang out with the kids while the sauce patiently simmered away. Serena was just a busy single mom feeding her kids, but her food was better than anything I'd ever tasted. For her, cooking wasn't a painstaking ordeal. It was just a simple part of life.
Since then, I've traveled a lot, and it has taught me some key things about kitchens around the world – namely, they’re not all the same. Some are big. Some are small. Some have dishwashers and most don’t. Some have lots of pots. Some have just two or three.
The gist: keep it simple and be ready to improvise. Don’t use what’s not necessary. Clean up your mess. And apply those lessons to other elements of your life. (In Italy they didn’t have clothes dryers, just laundry spinners. To this day, I use a salad spinner to dry hand-washed items. My old roommate thought I was gross, but I maintain that this idea is genius).
My first recipe of my first blog post is, naturally, Serena’s Tomato Sauce. This classic sauce will cover you for just about anything – pasta, pizza, seafood, lasagna. It can be modified in endless ways, depending on what’s in season and what’s in the pantry. And it requires just one pot and nearly no chopping.
Serena’s Tomato Sauce
Yield: About 3 cups
Prep Time: 5 min Cook Time: 25 min Total Time: 30 min
Glug of olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
28oz / 800g can good-quality tomatoes
Handful of torn basil
Salt and pepper
A note on tomatoes: Crushed San Marzanos are ideal, but you can chop whole ones or use diced. The consistency will change a bit, but the sauce will still taste awesome.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat and toss in the garlic for about 30 seconds. Use a decent amount of oil, at least 3 tablespoons. It adds a really silky texture and flavor. Pour in the tomatoes, tear up some basil and toss it in, and season with salt and pepper. Let simmer, 10-20 minutes.
If you’re using the sauce with pasta, don’t rinse it after draining. The starch from the cooking water helps bind the sauce to the pasta.
I like to jar up the sauce and freeze it. If you're just cooking for one or two people, try freezing in 8oz / 25 mL jars - a perfect amount for one of the meals below.
Puttanesca: Cook a pinch of red pepper flakes with garlic. Fold in some chopped black olives, capers, chopped anchovies. Toss with gemelli or penne.
Shrimp and arugula: Simmer the shrimp for a few minutes in sauce, til cooked through. Wilt in the arugula. Drape over pasta or some toasted bread brushed with olive oil and a pinch of salt.
Veggie sauce: Saute any combo of chopped veg (zucchini, spinach, chopped onions, carrots, bell peppers…) and toss through sauce. Or sauté the veggies along with the garlic in sauce. Serve with a thinner spaghetti.
Pizza: If you can find them, buy fresh focaccini (little round flat focaccia breads) or something similar. Make a pizza with the sauce and some fresh mozzarella. Toast it in the toaster oven at 400F/210C til the cheese looks good. Maybe add some local cured meats like prosciutto, pepperoni or salami and whatever else looks good from the market.