I've been hearing some things here and there lately about San Marzano tomatoes. They're tomatoes grown in (you guessed it) San Marzano (that's in Italy, which explains my immediate and ever-burgeoning obsession).
I found them in Whole Foods (damn you Whole Foods and your amazing selection of hard-to-find-and-expensive-and-delicious-things!), and of course grabbed a big can. I wasn't sure if they'd make a difference in the taste of my sauce, especially since I was planning on making vodka sauce, where the creaminess can overpower the tomato-y-ness anyway.
When I opened the can, I took a little spoonful just as it was, to see if I could taste a difference between the San Marzano beauties and their average American cousins. I could not. But the can was attractive, and the name is so fun to say, I can't promise I really cared at that point. Then I embarked on what would become the best vodka sauce of MY LIFE! Behold its rustic simplicity:
SAN MARZANO VODKA SAUCE
2 T. olive oil
1 medium white onion, finely diced
1 medium carrot, cut into small pieces
glug of red wine
1 large can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
3/4 c. vodka
1 small container heavy cream (8 oz.)
fresh chopped parsley
fresh chopped oregano
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
Yes, friends, that's all it takes to make a sauce that, I daresay, would make a boyfriend propose, a friend declare her undying love for your demon cat, or perhaps just make you fantasize about its every nuance for days on end.
It's a sauce so good that even I, an over-ingredienter if ever there were one, could just have a (giant) bowl of nothing but rigatoni swathed in this saintly, silky, sinful sauce. (Seriously, after I tasted it, I felt like I needed to go to confession).
Well, enough of that filthy talk! Let's talk about the tricks I taught this sauce to do: for its first act, it made what could've been a much-too-healthy summer lasagna into a coma-inducing, wine-absorbing moanfest. And for the finale but a few days later? Another hearty, and arguably a more heathful, easy Italian treat.
Before we get carried away, here's how you combine the above ingredients into a pot of heaven:
Heat the olive oil in a deep saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and season with a little salt and pepper. Cook them until they begin to soften. Add the onions, season a tad more, and cook until they begin to get soft too, and just keep cooking until the mixture begins to get a little color. Don't be afraid of the color. Just go with it.
Add in the glug of red wine, scraping any oil/carrot/onion residue off the bottom of the pan. Cook until it evaporates a bit and soaks into the veggies. Pour in the tomatoes and the vodka. Add the fresh herbs, red pepper flakes, and some more salt and pepper. [NOTE: the San Marzano tomatoes I got had no salt added, so make sure that if yours do, you go easier on the salt you add to the dish.] Stir and cook over medium-high heat until the mixture thickens a bit.
When the sauce has reduced a bit, lower the heat and stir in the cream. Just go with it. You can make it up on the treadmill later. Taste the sauce, and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Cook a little more if the sauce seems thin.
Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce until smooth (you could also use a food processor or regular blender). Taste one last time and make sure the seasoning is spot-on. Pat yourself on the back and prepare for an orgiastic feast.
This isn't the first thing I made with the SMVS, but it photographed well, thus receives higher placement on the blog. Another ingredient I'd been meaning to experiment with are Cubanelle peppers. I saw Rachael Ray make something with them once, and being a pepper fanatic in general, I was jonesing to try them. They have a really interesting flavor; slightly spicy (reminiscent of poblanos but with much less heat), but with the pleasantly clean, bitter bite of a green bell pepper. Their flesh is thin yet crisp, making them really satisfying to bite into when paired with something creamy, like the white beans in this dish.
I was really happy with the way this came out: fresh, hearty yet light (a paradox I've been getting right a lot lately - go me!), and rife with layers of subtle flavors and a pleasing range of textures. The only thing I'd do differently next time is cut the red bell peppers into smaller pieces, as the big slices kept slapping me in the side of the face when I'd try to get a forkful in.
LINGUINE, WHITE BEANS & A PEPPER PARTY
WITH SAN MARZANO VODKA SAUCE
glug olive oil
2 cloves garlic
several dashes white wine vinegar (or other vinegar, whatever you have)
about 6 oz. whole wheat linguine noodles
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
2 cubanelle peppers, sliced into thin rings
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
1 cup prepared San Marzano vodka sauce
2 medium shallots
palmful green olives, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated parmesan
Boil the water for the linguine. Cook linguine until al dente. Drain, and set aside. Heat the leftover San Marzano sauce in the pan you just cooked the pasta in. Throw in the pasta, while still hot, and stir until the pasta is coated.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, shallots, and tomatoes to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the onions start to get translucent and the tomatoes soften a bit.
Add the peppers to the pan. Add the vinegar and season a little more. Shake the pan and cook until the peppers begin to get soft. Add the olives and beans. Shake the pan a bit more and cook until everything is hot, the tomatoes are partially broken down, and the peppers are done to your liking (cook longer if you like softer peppers).
Spoon the pepper-bean mixture over the linguine and sauce. Top with grated parmesan. Serve and enjoy!
The SMVS actually made its debut in my Summer Squash Lasagna, that I shared with my lovely ex-co-worker and not-ex-friend, Megan (who loves to cook herself). While in my mind this lasagna was feather-light, crisp, and even healthy, in reality it was - while mega-delicious - rich, cheesy, and indulgent (not bad qualities, really).
Megan stopped by Pastoral, a fantastic cheese and wine boutique, before coming over, and the fromagiers there guided her to an unaged asiago cheese, which was just perfect with all the other elements of the lasagna. The squash and zucchini just seemed to melt right into the layers of cheese, fresh pasta, and creamy sauce. One piece, a glass or two of wine, and well, cancel your Friday night plans, my friends - you're hitting the sack early in a gloriously cheesy haze.
SUMMER SQUASH LASAGNA
12 oz. fresh egg lasagna noodles [NOTE: when using fresh lasagna noodles, you don't need to pre-boil them]
1 batch San Marzano vodka sauce (I had a about a cup leftover, but you could use more or less)
1 T. olive oil
1 container button mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 large leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise then sliced
1 large yellow squash, sliced into thin rounds
2 smallish zucchini squash, sliced into thin rounds
1 15-oz. container ricotta cheese
freshly grated parmesan (a lot)
fresh asiago cheese, diced (substitute mozzarella or another melty cheese)
1 ball fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly
fresh oregano, chopped (a lot)
fresh chopped parsley (don't be shy)
2 eggs, beaten
Toss the squash and zucchini with a little salt and place in a colander to drain (over a bowl or the sink) while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, asiago cheese, most of the oregano and parsley, some salt and pepper, and the beaten eggs. Set aside.
In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the mushrooms and leeks, adding a little salt and pepper and the rest of the oregano and parsley, until everything has some nice color and the liquid from the mushrooms has thoroughly evaporated. Set aside.
Spread a little vodka sauce on the bottom of the lasagna dish (this prevents sticking). Place a layer of noodles on top. Spread some of the ricotta mixture on top. Then layer some of the squash and zucchini on top of that. Top with some vodka sauce.
Preheat the oven to 375. Place another layer of noodles on top. Follow with another layer of the ricotta mixture. Top that with the mushroom-leek mixture. Top with some vodka sauce.
Repeat the layering of noodles, ricotta, squash/zucchini, then sauce. At this point, if you have enough noodles and fillings to make one more layer, do that. Top everything with the sliced mozzarella. Bake the lasagna at 375 until mozzarella is browned and the edges are bubbly. Allow to "rest" for about 15 minutes (this lets it sort of congeal), then slice into rectangles. Serve and enjoy!
We served it with a fresh green salad (to balance out the gooey layers of goodness) and a crisp white wine. It was a fantastic evening on the porch - excellent company, as always. (Thanks, Meg!)
In conclusion, it's really worth the time and minimal effort it takes to make your own vodka sauce - especially if you're a vodka sauce enthusiast (read: junkie) like myself. This one is one to memorize. Then when people drop by and you have a steaming hot platter of rigatoni alla vodka, and your guests ooh and aah and say, "Whereever did you get this recipe?" you'll just shrug and say, "Oh, this old thing?"
Thanks to Megan for the cheese and the conversation, and as always to my readers! More soon...