Pasta and sauce is a good meal. There are many pre-mixed pasta sauces for sale, packaged in jars, cans and pouches – and the sauces aren’t often either bland or overseasoned. They tend to be sweet and heavy on basil and sweet-smelling herbs.
I found a recipe in the Winnipeg Folk Festival Cook book that pointed the way to making a good homemade sauce. It takes a few minutes chopping vegetables and cooking the raw ingredients – but it’s easy and worthwhile
I followed – and played with – Pierre Guerin’s recipe for clam sauce.
It calls for a can of baby clams. I used the 284 ml/10 oz size. It calls for a can of tomato sauce. I used a 398 ml (14 oz) can and a 213 ml (7.5 oz). I think a 14 oz can would be ok, but I was able to simmer this for a while to get a thick sauce. It calls for a medium onion and 2 cloves of garlic. A large onion doesn’t hurt, and 2 cloves of garlic is too bland. Use 4-6. The onions and garlic should be chopped fine, and sautéed in light oil in a large skillet. When the onions are soft, add the clams. Drain the clams first, rinsing them doesn’t hurt. Cook for a few more minutes. Add the tomato sauce. At this point I added a cup of red wine. The recipe called for unstated amounts of oregano, black pepper and parsley. One teaspoon of oregano is good. Parsley is not meant to be eaten, but it seems to be a standard ingredient. I skipped it. I thought a touch of basil wouldn’t hurt – a quarter teaspoon, and a quarter teaspoon of tarragon. I went heavy on the pepper. I use peppercorns in a grater, and I was liberal with both black and mixed peppercorns, perhaps half a teaspoon each – which may be a little intense. Also, a tablespoon or two of grated parmesan. Guerin also suggested a little sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatos. I thought the basil, tarragon and wine did fine. If I hadn’t used the wine, it would have been an idea.
Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally. Relax. Have a beer. Heat the water for pasta slowly. Clam sauce is good on linguine noodles. Clam sauce is supposed to be eaten fresh, not refrigerated for too long.
Guerin’s notes suggested the recipe works as a Bolognese sauce with 300-500 grams of lean ground beef instead of clams. He suggested adding the beef to the onions as in the clam recipe above. A different idea – if you don’t mind an extra pan to wash – is to brown the beef in a separate skillet, and remove it with a slotted spoon and add it to the onions and garlic. That leaves some fat behind. However, it also makes for a less robust dish. Bolognese is a tomato and meat sauce, good on spaghetti. Choices, choices.
Claire had been making a similiar dish with spicy Italian sausage – a fresh sausage we get at our local supermarket. She starts with onions and garlic and adds sausage chunks. She uses a can of diced tomatos and a small can of tomato sauce. I think she uses some oregano, but she lets the sausage supply the other spices.
I haven’t tried to cost out the ingredients for these sauces against packaged sauces. It’s not expensive – onions, garlic, tomato sauce, and clams/ground beef/sausage/etc. If you have a good chef’s knife and washable cutting board, it’s pretty easy. It cooks in short stages, and there is time to to do other chores or read as it simmers. it’s hard to go wrong, and you can get something you really like instead of someone else’s idea of Italian.
The Folk Festival cookbook is fun. There are a few recipes from the cooks who prepare the meals for the volunteers just for information, like borscht for 1,500. There some interesting regional dishes and some delightful eccentricities. Queen Ida’s Poulet Gumbo (Queen Ida is a Zydeco musician from Louisiana). Stan Roger’s Hot mustard (start with 3 jars of Keens’ and add Tabasco, cayenne, garlic and Madras curry.) Spotted Dick with Hard Sauce? Visions of Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey. The less of two weevils.