Monday, April 2, 2012

Pre-Race Carb Loading with Homemade Pasta Sauce

Photo by Nadi0, from flickr.
Chris and I have the Cherry Blossom 10 miler coming up tomorrow morning, which means an excuse for carb loading! And if there's anything I love as much as pasta, it's making pasta sauce. Now, I'm not generally opposed to buying prepared foods, but one thing I've never understood is the point of pasta sauce out of a jar. Homemade pasta sauce is so easy, almost as fast, fun to experiment with, and always so much tastier. It's also really forgiving; the recipe I'm about to post isn't really a recipe, as I didn't measure anything, and did quite a bit of improvising. These are the ingredients that ended up going into the sauce:

Several garlic cloves, sliced
Part of an onion, diced,
One Habanero pepper, de-seeded and diced
One pint of grape tomatoes
Chicken broth
Dry vermouth (white wine would also work, but we didn't have any)
Fresh rosemary
Fresh mint
Dried basil (fresh would be better, but I forgot to pick some up at the store)
Sliced olives
Couple pinches of sugar

I started by sauteing the garlic, onion, and habanero over medium heat until everything was soft, about 5 minutes or so. I then dumped in the grape tomatoes, and let them sit until the outsides started to caramelize and they started to burst. This takes about 10-12 minutes, and I stirred occasionally to keep the onions and garlic from burning. You don't want to stir too often though, or you'll keep the tomatoes from charring. Once a few had burst on their own, I used a potato masher to mash the rest of them just a bit. I prefer a chunky sauce, so I still wanted some large tomato chunks. I mixed in a bit of sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes, and then I added some chicken broth and dry vermouth, along with the herbs and olives. I kept the heat pretty high to reduce the liquid, and once the liquid was an appropriate consistency, I reduced the heat to low until I was ready to use it. As simple as can be!

This is a great base recipe, because it's so easy to adjust. The addition of olives was a last-second decision because I thought they sounded good, but they could easily be left out. Chicken broth could be replaced with vegetable broth, water, or extra wine, though you'd want to add a bit of salt if you don't use any broth. Mint could be left out, oregano could be added. I also think roasted red peppers would be a nice addition, for a bit of smokey flavor. I strongly prefer bite-sized tomatoes, such as grape or cherry, because keeping them whole for a bit allows the outside to get a bit caramelized, but if that doesn't matter to you, then a can of diced tomatoes would do. For a smooth sauce, you could run everything in the blender before adding to pasta. The list of possible additions or substitutions goes on and on; pasta sauce is extremely forgiving, so it's a great way for both new and experienced cooks to get some practice improvising in the kitchen.

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