Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Credit Crunch: Marinara Sauce and Meatball Subs

Although I have only been in Florida for two weeks now, living in a hotel most of that time made it seems like ages. This weekend I was finally able to move into the condo I will be staying in for the next few months while I try to find a "real" job and a more permanent place to live. None of my furniture has arrived yet, and most of my household items are still in transit as well, so I am for now sleeping on an air mattress and using a makeshift desk (ok, technically a plastic tub full of clothes). It feels a bit like camping, only with air conditioning.

I do however have a kitchen again, and a few kitchen items I shipped early so that I would be able to cook some basic meals once I arrived. The first thing I made was a big pot of marinara sauce and a batch of meatballs. These are recipes I make so often, I really don't need to consult the recipes. This is a huge plus when nearly all of your cookbooks are boxed up and still on a boat traveling slowly across an ocean.

Marinara Sauce, heavily based on the version found in Everyday Italian by Giada diLaurentis

(makes about 8 servings)

2 large cans San Marzano crushed tomatoes, including any liquid from the can
2 carrots, scraped clean and very finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, very finely chopped
1/2 of a huge red onion, very finely chopped
4 cloves fresh garlic, very finely chopped
sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4-1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 bay leaves (or any other herb you prefer, a good tsp of Italian seasoning also works)

Coat the entire surface of a large stockpot with olive oil, about 1/4-1/3c of oil. You need a bit more than you would if you were just lightly stir frying something, so don't be stingy, although too much will just make your sauce taste greasy. While the oil heats over about medium-lowish heat, chop up all of your veggies. I try to chop them as finely as possible, but if you like things a bit chunkier, go for it. Throw all of the chopped veggies (carrot, celery, onion, garlic) into the pot and give everything a good stir to coat, then add some salt and pepper (freshly ground) and let everything cook long enough to soften up - about 10-15 minutes.

Once the veggies are softened up, add the tomatoes, juice and all, the red pepper flakes, and the bay leaves or whatever herbs you prefer instead. I forgot to buy bay leaves this time, so I had to use Italian seasoning, which really was fine. Let everything simmer on medium-low or even low heat, (partially covered to prevent redecorating your kitchen with red sauce spots), for about 1 hour or longer, stirring about once every half hour or so. Taste for seasoning and add more of anything as needed, and a pinch of sugar if you detect anything resembling "canned tomato" taste. I usually don't need to add any sugar if I have used San Marzano tomatoes, but if you just used whatever you had handy, which truth be told I have had to do many times myself, a bit of sugar will do wonders.

A great tip my Dad once taught me - you can tell the tomatoes have cooked down enough when the liquid is no longer bright red, but has instead taken on a golden reddish-orangey hue. You want the sauce to cook long enough to at least notice this change in color, and if you want to continue longer, you may, it only further thickens the sauce and intensifies the flavor. For me, usually 1 1/2 hours works (total cooking time).

When you are happy with your sauce, allow it to cool slightly and go find your food mill, or if you don't have one, a stick blender will suffice. Set the food mill on top of a huge heat-safe bowl (or just another cooking pot) and run the sauce through it. This will result in a smooth texture and all of your picky eaters who hate things like carrots and onions will not have anything to moan and groan about. If you like a chunky sauce, only run about half of the sauce through the mill, then mix the remaining virgin sauce with the smooth portion. Running the sauce through the food mill produces the smooth, thick texture you find in many restaurant sauces and truth be told, purchased sauces as well. It is a really an important step. If all you have is a stick blender, you can use it, although it won't come out quite as well as the food mill. The food mill has the added benefit of straining out any skin, seeds, and other unpleasant bits that the stick blender will otherwise pulverize. Since I am still working with a limited amount of kitchen tools, both my food mill and stick blender were unavailable so i just served the sauce as is. It still tastes great, but I did miss the richer texture.

I then portion out my sauce into freezer or fridge containers; this keeps about 1 week in the fridge or 3 months in the freezer. I usually make at least one meal using some of the sauce with pasta and meatballs, while another portion is used to make meatball subs. My meatball recipe can be found here.

To make the meatball subs, I preheat the oven to 350, split some Italian sub rolls and line them with about 5 meatballs, pour some warm sauce over them, then top with a slice or two of provolone cheese. I partially wrap each sub in foil, leaving the tops exposed, then bake them about 5-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling.


  1. That sub looks tasty Heather, I do like a good marinara sauce and the family would love these for tea. Good to see you posting, hope you get settled soon