Friday, 20 May 2011

What was the first thing you cooked?

Not the very first thing (New Zealand biscuits and not jam tarts as I wrote in my news that week because I had forgotten what they were called) but the first thing that you experimented with, changed around, made 'yours' as it were?

Mine was a Good Housekeeping pasta sauce recipe, from circa 1996 I think. Just before I went to Uni anyway. I had been cooking for the family since I was about 9 and could knock out a roast dinner in my sleep, ditto bolognaise, shepherds pie - well, you get the picture. I had started to be more conscious of my weight in sixth form, having started to have more curves even then, and wanted to eat more healthily. Mind you as that seemed to involve a daily Aero from the sweet machine in my free period I clearly had an odd opinion of what health actually entailed.

Pasta sauce, well, the Good Housekeeping recipe went something like this. If anyone from GH reads this and has any idea of what I'm referring to, I'd love a picture!

1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 onion, chopped finely
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato puree
dried herbs
0.5 tsp sugar
2 tablespoons double cream

Pasta to serve

Cook the garlic and onion in the oil until translucent (the amount of times I burned my garlic, I had no idea for actual years that was what made it bitter!)
Add the chopped tomatoes, sugar, tomato puree and hers and simmer for 10 minutes (the first year of uni every white t-shirt I owned had little orange splatters on it from this stage. Simmer means gently Penelope!)
Once reduced down, take off the heat, stir in 2 tablespoons of double cream and serve with pasta.

For a while this was my staple diet. And then I started to make changes, adding grated cheese instead of cream, adding fresh basil, baking penne with it in and adding cubed up mozzarella, the possibilities seemed endless.

A few years on and I used it as the base for so many meals, extra veg, penne and grated cheese on top made it a standard pasta bake. Cream for special occaisions. Mince and red wine and a much slower cook for bolognaise, but all basically the same basic recipe.

This is still what I use if I'm doing a 'fridge bottom' pasta sauce, the sort that you cook, portion off and freeze. This is what I used for the pizza on Sunday, except when it had defrosted, I reduced it down on a low heat for about half an hour to get rid of the extra liquid and concentrate the flavour, then whizzed it up in the food processor (a hand blender would do) to puree the veggies down.

Then I started to hang around on foodie discussion boards, and I became more adventurous, wanted to do things differently - wanted things to taste different - it now being 2000 and something.

This is what my pasta sauce looks like today:

2 peeled cloves of garlic left whole
Lots of virgin olive oil
2 tins of San Marzano (or similar really good quality tomatoes) drained of most of their liquid
Most of a bottle of red wine - a Barolo or similar
Some tomato puree
Fresh or dried oregano
Salt & Pepper

Put the Olive oil in a heatproof casserole and add the garlic cloves
Add the two tins of tomatoes, and break these up gently with a wooden spoon
Add the red wine and allow to bubble gently
Add a splodge of tomato puree and if you're using dried oregano, add some now
Cook in a low oven (about 150) for an hour to an hour and a half depending on your oven
Add fresh oregano
Remove and serve with pasta, more good red wine and a green salad

Oh, My. God. This is just so good, the depth of flavour is amazing, and the unctuousness sauce just clings to the pasta (use rigatoni, or something with ridges to give it a hand). I sometimes add cubed buffalo mozzarella to this just as I'm serving so it goes all melty and gooey, but unadulterated it is perfect.

If you wanted to get rid of the wine I think you would be losing a big part of your flavour, but you could substitute water and then it would have a more simple taste so would be better as the base of a pizza sauce.

Things I still haven't done - baked this, with loads of cheese. Used it as the base for a parmigiana. Added anything like prawns or fish to it (I would omit the cheese then I think). Added cream to it - I just don't think it needs anything else to shine, it's power is in the simplicity of it's flavours, and I just love the fact that after the intital 5 minutes you leave it be.

So there you have it, a double whammy, pizza sauces and pasta sauces.

What was your first foray into cooking?


Seren said...

Also pasta - but for me, it was tuna pasta bake which I decided to learn because it was my Dad's favourite! Proper White sauce made from a roux (none of this all in one go nonsense!) then tuna, mushrooms and more cheese than you can shake a big stick at!

Actually, this is something I never cook anymore - perhaps I should at some point, just for old times' sake.


Pen said...

Oh wow! Proper white sauce, that is impressive - I was schooled in the 'use a tin of condensed mushroom soup' for white sauce skills. Actual white sauce only attempted in second year uni when doing mass lasagne.

I bet it would evoke loads of memories if you did it now.


Jess said...

Oooh, I love pasta sauce! Always amazed how great just a simple tomato & basil combo can taste. Will have to try yours soon.

What difference does it make cooking it in the oven rather than on the hob?

Pen said...

Hi Jess,

Cooking it in the oven means you can reduce it down more slowly which (I think) makes the flavours more intense and developed. I didn't think it would make too much of a difference, but the first time you try it, it's kind of a "wow!" moment.


Jess said...

Well, we have an oven type dish so I may have to give it a go this weekend :) Problem will be sacrificing wine to put in it, but I'm sure once I taste it it'll be worth it.



Pen said...

Make sure it's a wine you like to drink, as the flavour intensifies with the cooking, so it needs to be a good one not a vinegary/ corked/ open too long bottle! Definitely try it though, let me know how it goes - send me a piccy.

Your casserole dish needs a close fitting lid by the way. (I couldn't remember if I said that).


Jess said...

I've consulted Olly and he's recommended Tesco Finest Nero D'Avola.

Not sure we have a lid. Will have to look into that...



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