Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Special Treat: Mama Vallese's Traditional Vegetable Sauce

I'm often asked about this simple marinara sauce that my mother makes, so ta-da! This goes great on just about any pasta imaginable. I always recommend, after cooking your pasta in well-salted water, that you drain, throw it back into the pot, add a few pats of butter (the vegan, no cholesterol stuff like Earth balance is fine too, maybe a tablespoon or so), sprinkle a nice handful of parmaggiano or romano cheese in (maybe 1/4 cup), toss it all together, add a few ladles of the sauce, then toss it all together. This will keep all the pasta separate and flavored--there is nothing more horrifying to me than dried out, nasty pasta and this always results from folks not lubricating the cooked pasta as it were. You, of course, should always add more sauce and cheese when you serve.

Anyway, without further ado, here is my mother's no-fail vegetable sauce (I will post a separate meat sauce blog later on--don't attempt to just throw meat into this sauce because it just won't taste as good as it could).

2 (two) 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes (you may also use pureed if you prefer a thinner sauce)
2 stalks celery, diced small
3 large carrots, diced small (or about 10 baby carrots)
1 large white or yellow onion
salt, ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper (more if you like it a little spicier)
1 tablespoon onion powder (optional)
1/4 cup fresh basil (I always just eyeball it though)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
A few glugs of a nice dry red wine

1. Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a heavy saucepan.

2. Throw the carrots, celery, and onion into the food processor (if you have a small food processor, do it one vegetable at a time and throw it all into a large bowl). If you do not have a food processor, a good blender should work, but you'll need to add a bit of liquid to get the veggies to a puree (a trickle of water or olive oil should do the trick).

3. Add the vegetable mush to the simmering olive oil along with a splash of wine--it should be a dark brownish-orange color. It won't be very attractive, but believe me, the end result is wonderful.

4. Let the vegetables cook with the olive oil for about 4 minutes. Add the crushed red pepper, a generous handful of salt (a few tablespoons - you will add more later to taste), and the black pepper (maybe 2 tablespoons or so). Allow to cook for another 3 minutes or so.

5. Add the tomatoes. (Important: "rinse" the cans or bottles with water and then add the water to the sauce--this is a good way to get all the bits of tomato left over in the can out into the pot and the water will help keep the sauce from getting too thick. Don't fill both cans or bottles with water, but each maybe about 1/4 of the way. Also, use your judgment, if it seems like too much water, it probably is--but it's not the end of the world because it'll cook down eventually anyway and you can always re-season!) Stir it all together.

6. Put a lid on the pot, keep the heat at medium, and allow to cook steadily for at least 1 hour (the longer you cook it, of course, the better). Stir every five minutes or so, scraping at the bottom and sides. Taste when you stir because the salt and pepper often cook out quickly and you'll need to add a few more pinches.

7. Once the sauce has been cooking for about an hour, add your onion powder and a little more wine and stir. Allow sauce to cook for another 15 minutes.

8. When your pasta has almost reached an al dente state, throw the fresh basil into the sauce. Stir and cover again. By the time the pasta is cooked, drained, and tossed with a little butter and cheese, you can turn the sauce off and throw it all together. Important: Really do throw in that basil toward the very end because basil tends to lose its punch if steeped too long in the boiling sauce and when you get an actual piece of the basil in your mouth, it's all stringy and soggy like seaweed on a beach and it has an unfortunate, almost rubbery taste.

9. Eat seconds, dip bread into the leftover sauce. Return to the fridge before bedtime and eat a few bites semi-cold.

10. The next day, FRY IT UP (easy recipe/trick to follow)!


  1. I made this today, and it was great! Unfortunately, I WAY overdid it on the garlic (which wasn't even in the recipe). Still great, though!