Archives for category: Tomato Sauce

It was my dad’s birthday last month and my mom and sister organized a fabulous cocktail party for him.  It’s almost a month later and I’m still thinking about the spread they put together.  I wasn’t even there to taste anything, but the pictures of the food I saw have left a lasting impression. My sister and I brainstormed a menu together.  I think I can attribute that session of feeding off each other and coming up with ideas to my push to be more active on my blog again.  While we were discussing I became inspired,  I came up with some pretty good appetizer ideas if I say so myself!

While my sister went shopping for the ingredients I would be on Whatsapp receiving pictures of everything and giving my feedback.  If was a lot of fun and it would have been even more enjoyable if we could have done it together.  See, my whole family is obsessed with food and eating.  We always have been and always will be.  We take pride in having people over and entertaining them.  It’s our goal that people remember the food, ambiance and company.  I’m not being a hater, but I’ve been to way too many gatherings where food is just plopped into foil trays with no thought and no presentation.  I would rather curl up and retire in a cave than serve anything in such a manner.

I think it might have something to do with my upbringing.  If somebody comes over at the last-minute I get super stressed out if I don’t have fresh flowers in the house, if I don’t have anything to feed them.  I will go into panic mode and clean my already clean place and get everything I need as quickly as I can.  I’m sure my guest wouldn’t have noticed, but when I have people over I like to entertain in a certain way .  I also wish more people were into it, but when I see all these beautiful blogs and websites I get really happy inside to find people who think the same way as me. 🙂

As I was saying, my sister and mom did a fabulous job at arranging the birthday party.  One of the appetizers we all came up with was  Moroccan meatballs.  My sister and I made a variation together when I visited my family over the summer and they were delicious.  So I suggested she make a cocktail party style meatball.  Apparently they were a hit and everyone loved them.  I have been thinking about making them since the birthday party, but I made a dinner version with a tomato-based sauce.  My husband being my husband (not one to pick up on details!), thought they were Italian-style meatballs at first, but when he tasted them he said that they were just like the ones we had on our trip to Marrakesh.  Score.  🙂

These meatballs are lovely with some crusty Moroccan bread, couscous, or rice.  Enjoy!

Lamb and Harissa Meatballs

Serves 4

Ingredients

for the tomato sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes

1/2 onion chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons of harissa paste

1/4 teaspoon crushed red chilies, optional

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and pepper, to taste

for the meatballs:

oil for frying

1 pound ground lamb

1/2 a red onion, finely chopped

2 gloves garlic, minced finely

fresh parsley and cilantro, about 1/2 cup, chopped

1 Serrano chili, chopped and deseeded, if you like

1/4 cup dried golden raisins and dried cranberries

1 egg

1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs

1/4 cup harissa paste (you can find it in most grocery stores or Middle Eastern markets, if you want to make your own you can use my friend Sara’s recipe)

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

salt and black pepper, to taste

for garnishing:

fresh parsley, scallions, cilantro (or whatever you like)

toasted almonds

lemon wedges

olive oil, for drizzling

Method

To make the tomato sauce:

Heat the olive oil in a pot on medium heat and add the onions and allow them to get translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Add in the garlic and let it cook for 2 minutes.  Add in the harissa, ground coriander, ground cumin, and crushed red chilies (optional) and let them cook for a minute.  Add in the crushed tomatoes and stir so that everything is combined.  Season with salt and pepper and after 10 minutes turn the heat down to low and leave the sauce to cook for about an hour.

To make the meatballs:

Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl and mix together with your hands.  Shape the meat mixture into balls (not too big and not too small) and let them marinate in the refrigerator for an hour or two.

After they have marinated, heat a large frying pan with a good amount (about 4-5 tablespoons) of oil (I used olive oil) and fry until the meatballs are golden on all sides and mostly cooked through.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the meatballs from the pan and add into the tomato sauce.  Make sure you drain most of the grease from the meatballs.

Let the meatballs simmer in the sauce for about 10-15 minutes.  Garnish with parsley, cilantro, scallions, toasted almonds, lemon wedges and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Serve with crusty bread, couscous, or rice.

My dad’s birthday spread prepared my my mom and sister!

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You could easily step into your grocery store and grab a bottle of “Classico”, heat it up and toss it with pasta.  Sure, we get lazy, sure we don’t feel like cooking every day.  But, making a fresh tomato sauce is almost as easy as opening up a bottle of jarred sauce, and the taste has no comparison.  I know a traditional tomato sauce consists of a mirepoix of carrots, celery, and onions.  To me, a simpler sauce without the onions,carrots, and celery tastes almost like perfection.  I use shallots, garlic, and thyme infused garlic-chili oil inspired by Ina Garten as my base.  The shallots are sweeter and smoother, giving the sauce a softer taste.  The herb infused oil gives the sauce extra boldness and rounds out the flavors.

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Of course, fresh tomatoes are the best.  However, even with all the organic, pesticide-free, heirloom, local varieties of tomatoes available to us here in America, the taste is just not the same as San Marzano tomatoes.  I am a firm believer in eating local whenever possible, but until I find a suitable tomato for sauce I will stick to canned San Marzano tomatoes.  They are becoming more and more common.  Chefs on Food Network always mention them and even budget conscious cooks are embracing them. During an undergraduate spring break, I travelled to Italy, and to this day I remember how sweet and delicious Italian tomatoes are.

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My recipe is simple, the longer it simmers the better.  But, if you don’t have 4 hours to simmer your sauce, an hour should be just fine.  I like to keep the sauce simple.  I sometimes opt to add ricotta cheese to the sauce to give it a little more smoothness, but this is entirely optional and non-traditional.

Tomato Sauce:

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

a glug of extra-virgin olive oil (about 4 tablespoons)

4-5 cloves of garlic, minced

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilis (or to taste)

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

3 shallots, chopped

1 bay leaf

2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

a 28 ounce can of whole San Marzano Tomatoes, slightly pureed (if they are not available to you then use the best quality canned tomatoes you can source)

2 heaping tablespoons ricotta cheeseIMG_7916

freshly grated parmigiano reggiano for garnish

fresh torn basil leaves

Method:

Prepare the herb-garlic infused oil by taking a small sauce saucepan on medium heat and adding the olive oil to it.  Let the oil heat up slightly and next add the crushed red chilies and allow to infuse the oil for 30 seconds, next add in the thyme and garlic and allow them to settle in the oil for a minute.  Turn down the heat to low heat (almost medium) so that the garlic does not burn and turn bitter.  Let the flavors come together, about 15-20 minutes.  In a larger pot add the herb-garlic infused oil with the springs of thyme and allow to heat up at medium heat.  Next, add the shallots and the bay leaf allow the shallots to sweat.  When the shallots are translucent pour in the red wine vinegar and move the pot away form the heat.  The vinegar will be burning off, so this may irritate your eyes, use caution.  Once the vinegar steam has settled put in the tomatoes and salt into the pot.  Stir everything together and allow to simmer on low heat for about an hour.  After an hour or so, taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.  Discard the bay leaf and any thyme stems left in the sauce.  Tear in fresh basil leaves and  mix the ricotta cheese into the sauce until combined.  Serve with any pasta of your choice and top with grated parmigiano reggiano and fresh basil leaves to garnish.

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This sauce can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, you name it.  It is a basic sauce that is quite versatile.  It be used in pastas, for dipping, on pizza, as a base for tomato soup, in eggplant/chicken/veal parmesan and the list could go on and on.  You can add olives, ground meat, vegetables, or whatever you fancy!