Eggs simmered in Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce

Marcella Hazan, the iconic Italian cookbook author died this weekend, and like so many other food lovers, I’ve done the thing that seems the most fitting – taken to the kitchen to cook recipes in her honor. Starting with her famous tomato sauce. {Here’s a link to her obit in the NYTimes, and here’s the bible: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking – an oft consulted tome from my bookshelf.}

This is a meal I come back to again and again in various incarnations: Israeli Shakshuka, or Turkish Mememen, or with Mexican flavors sort of Ranchero style, or Greek style with lots of feta – it’s such versatile and quick meal, and lends itself to all sorts playing in the kitchen. (Usually I like to cook my own sauce, like Marcella’s here, but in a pinch, I’ll use Rao’s marinara, and the meal will come together in five minutes.)

Eggs simmered in Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce 

2 cups tomatoes 
1 medium onion
5 tablespoons butter
a good pinch of salt
2 – 3 eggs per person 

First Marcella’s sauce, which, is perhaps her most famous recipe, likely because it has only four ingredients – and some people don’t even count the salt so we’ll call it three ingredients – but also, because it’s exceedingly delicious for so little effort. Here’s what you do: take  2 cups of tomatoes, with their juices – she recommends fresh, or a 28-ounce can of imported San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes, although, admittedly this time I had a single 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes from Trader Joe’s, and it turned out fine – and you put  it in a small sauce pan. Peel a medium onion, chop it in half, and add it to the tomatoes, and then put in five (yes five) tablespoons of butter, and a good pinch of salt. Gently bring to a simmer on medium heat, and cook it uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring every so often. Do a taste check – does it need more salt? Before you serve, you’ll season, and then get rid of the onion – it’s done it’s job. You can use this sauce for pasta, or over chicken, or with some sausages, or with vegetables, or simmered with eggs.

To make the eggs – put the sauce in a large, shallow pan, and cook until warm. Make a few holes in the sauce with your spoon, add the eggs – I’ll do three eggs per person, and share the entire sauce recipe between the two of us –  and cover the pan until the eggs set, about 4 minutes. Serve as is, or top with a healthy grating of Parmigiano.

Farro Salad – a Master Recipe

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Farro is an interesting grain with a nice bite, that is well suited to easy summer salads. I use it in recipes that call for wheatberries, green lentils, bulgur or even barley occasionally as a replacement, but I find that I love it best in this salad with tomato, basil, feta, and a balsamic vinaigrette. I’m lucky to find farro at Rainbow Foods in San Francisco, but in some places, farro can be pricey – try shopping for it in stores with bulk bins, at trader joe’s, or even online.

Farro is an Italian word, and when I eat this grain, I find myself transported to Tuscany, sitting in the garden of my imaginary apartment, eating blissfully, drinking a glass of wine, and contemplating nothing but relaxation.

As usual, I use Mark Bittman’s pretty foolproof way of cooking most grains – put one cup of the grain in a small pot, and cover by at least an inch of liquid – bring to a boil, and turn down, cover, and simmer for 30-35 minutes without touching it. Then you can test it – if it’s not done, just add a few more tablespoons of liquid, and leave on the heat for ten more minutes. Unlike rice, don’t worry if there is extra liquid after the cooking time, just drain it.

MASTER RECIPE! Variations: This salad is also a great vehicle for crunchy vegetables – feel free to add fresh corn kernels (you don’t need to cook them!), black beans, bits of chopped red pepper, cucumber, shavings of carrot, chick peas, or even little cubes of summer squash to name just a few! Also, you can punch up the herbs with some fresh parsley or fresh mint (or both) to give it some extra green. No balsamic on hand? Just make a simple lemon vinaigrette with the same proportions of lemon to olive oil.

Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Basil, and Feta
serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

Ingredients:

– 1 cup farro
–  enough salted water or chicken broth to cover farro by one inch in pot (about 2.5 cups)
– 1 large heirloom tomato, chopped (ripe! uglier the better!)
– about ten leaves of basil, rolled into a cigar shape and chopped
– salt and pepper
– 2 ounces feta cheese
– 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
– 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Method:

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the farro and enough water (or chicken stock) to cover farro by an inch. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the farro is tender, about 35 minutes. Drain, and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, add the chopped tomatoes, basil, and feta, and cover with the slightly cooled farro. In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil to make a vinaigrette. Pour into the farro salad, and toss to coat. You can eat this warm, or it can be made in advance and popped in the refrigerator. Just let it come back to room temperature when you want to eat it, and make sure to re-toss it!

Daring Bakers: Lasagna of Emilia-Romagna

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Daring Bakers. The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Every month, hundreds of bakers across the world band together in an effort to push their own culinary boundaries. Daring bakers is certainly not thirty minute meals. This month, we were making lasagna of Emilia-Romagna, a three part adventure which included home made spinach pasta, a home made ragu, and a creamy béchamel.

Ok, I thought. I’m going to make lasagna from scratch this month. Well I have another confession to make. I really, really, really enjoy Stouffers lasagna. Somehow, even after microwaving the stuff instead of baking it, it fulfills my every need and want. Somehow, this microwave boxed food is entwined with thoughts of Italian grandmothers slaving away in the kitchen, and remarkably the deception pulls itself off. Somehow, even though it pains me to say it, I love the stuff. So the idea of making a real lasagna, all from scratch… a challenge that would no doubt be fun to make, and delicious, was intriguing… but could it beat my trusty standby? You laugh, maybe you even scoff, but I was skeptical.

mixing-the-dough

Challenge part #1: Homemade spinach pasta. Home made pasta is incredibly easy to make. You take just a few ingredients, usually just flour and egg, and mix, knead, roll, and voila- just a few minutes in a boiling pot of water, and done! The only difficult part: rolling out the dough. I’d highly prefer doing it with a Kitchen Aid mixer with the pasta attachment, but alas, all I have here is my own forearms, and a nice silpat rolling pin.

lasagna-spinach-pasta-dough Another wonderful bonus of home made pasta is that the pasta dough is another good place in which to hide vegetables in for the picky eater. For this pasta, I used two eggs, 3.5 cups of flour, and I added spinach, about 6 ounces of defrosted frozen spinach, which I had emulsified with my hand held emulsifier. This makes the paste smooth, and easily workable into the dough. If I were to do this dish again, I’d probably add some basil as well, but you could easily puree any vegetable and add it to a basic dough.

Challenge part #2: A delicious ragu. For this part, I did a cheat move, using jarred pasta sauce as a base. I added meat, and cooked it for about an hour, so ultimately it doesn’t save any time, just imparts some fantastic flavor. Yes, part of it was jarred, but I don’t feel bad. The stuff is delicious.

“Cheats Ragu”

1/2 onion
an ounce of bacon
1/2 lb ground veal
1/4 cup of red wine
a jar of really good store bought tomato sauce
(I used Trader Joes Rustico- Southern Italian sauce), but I might easily have substituted barilla.

Saute the onion for about ten minutes, with some good olive oil. Add the bacon, and saute, add the half cup of wine, and cook for a minute, dump in the jar of pasta sauce. Cover really loosely (more of a stain catcher), and stir occasionally, cooking at a slow bubble for about 45 minutes or more.

Challenge part #3: A Bechamel (white sauce) This is the key to a rich, hearty lasagna. In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter, and then sift in 4 tablespoons of flour, whisking it all until smooth. Slowly whisk in 2 2/3 cup of milk, whisking constantly to avoid lumps forming. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir until the sauce thickens, about seven or eight minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and most importantly some freshly grated nutmeg. The nutmeg imparts the most wonderful flavor that gives the whole lasagna something special.

Finally, with the three parts prepared, I put together the lasagna, layering the (boiled) pasta, sauces, and some freshly grated parmesan, and baked it all (covered loosely with foil) for 40 minutes at 350 degrees F.

lasagna Ultimately, this lasagna was delicious. Painfully delicious. As in my forearms. All of the rolling. I spent three days eating it, hot, cold, microwaved, for breakfast, until I could lasagna no more. Was it better than my Stouffers? Er… Yes. Would I make it again? Yes. Although, probably sooner if I had a Martha Stewart Blue Kitchen Aid Mixer. (Hint, hint…. nudge, nudge…) Until then, I’ll savor this experience.

Aside: If anyone is interested in slaving away recreating this, I have the longer, much more detailed recipe for the pasta and assembly that I would be more than willing to email.

A Quick Snack: Ricotta, Pesto and Red Pepper on Toast

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Sometimes in the afternoon I get really hungry and need something to tide me over for dinner. When this happens, one of my favorite things to put together is a simple open faced sandwich. I really try to mix it up, sometimes it’s [nutella and banana], sometimes [cucumber, cream cheese and turkey], sometimes [peanut butter, banana and honey]. (Only one slice of bread makes it healthier, right?)

An Italian Version: Simply toast a slice of bread (I used a multigrain, whole wheat slice), slather with some really good ricotta cheese, top with a warm balsamic roasted red pepper (I simply take a roasted red pepper out of a jar, put it in a little pan to heat with a couple of teaspoons of balsamic), a dollop of home made pesto, and a dash of black pepper. It’s delicious.