Friday, August 17, 2012

with complete abandon

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on August 15, 2012. 

A few weeks ago, I ran down to the basement to take stock of my canning shelves. Among the sea of empty glass jars, I found a few of salsa, some of tomato juice and roasted tomato sauce, and a whole bunch of pints of chopped Roma tomatoes, some of which were from as long ago as 2007. The jars were caked with dust, the edges fuzzy with mold. I felt slightly embarrassed.

I contemplated tossing the Romas, but the seals were still firm so I crossed my fingers and decided to put them in a sauce. I had found a spaghetti sauce recipe that specifically called for canned tomatoes—it’d be perfect for using up my antiques. But could their age prove deadly?

All my life, my mother has obsessively worried about botulism and salmonella, and even though I am much more pragmatic (no one I know has ever gotten sick from eating home-canned food, and besides, acidic tomatoes are not botulism prone), at moments like these, her death and doom speeches return to haunt me.

“Let’s hope I don’t kill us all,” I thought to myself as I lugged the armful of jars upstairs.

I scrubbed the jars in hot soapy water, popped off the lids, and dumped the tomato chunks into my Dutch oven. They looked and smelled perfectly fine. “See, Mom?” I thought. “There’s no problem!”

One of my son’s visiting friend’s eyes lit up when he saw what we were having for supper. “Spaghetti, yes!” he cheered.

“Hold up your plate,” I said to the boy after we had finished our silent mealtime prayer. He positively glowed with excitement—almost giddy, was he—as I mounded the spaghetti high.

I was slightly anxious that he might turn up his nose at my sauce since it was sure to be different from what he was used to, but I needn’t have worried. He rapidly polished off three servings, maybe even four. By the time he swallowed his last bite, he was groaning.

“Did you see how much he ate?” my stunned husband whispered to me as we cleared the table. “That last serving alone would’ve been enough for an entire lunch for me!”

“That’s how spaghetti is supposed to be eaten—with complete abandon,” I gloated.

But the best part? No one died.

Garlicky Spaghetti Sauce
Inspired by a recipe found in the August 2012 issue of “Food and Wine” magazine.

Despite the emphasis on garlic, the sauce is not overly pungent. The long cooking softens the bite considerably.

3 quarts canned tomatoes
½ - 3/4 cup (1-3 heads) peeled garlic cloves
2/3 cup olive oil
black pepper
1 pound thin spaghetti
lots of freshly torn basil
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For the sauce:
Bring the tomatoes to a simmer in a large pot.

Measure the oil into a smaller pot and add the garlic. Bring to a gentle boil and cook unlidded for about thirty minutes, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is golden brown and very tender.

Add the garlic and oil to the tomatoes. Using an immersion or regular blender, blend until smooth. Simmer for about an hour until the sauce has thickened a bit. Add plenty of salt and black pepper.

Set aside half of the sauce to freeze for a later batch of spaghetti or to use as pizza sauce.

For the spaghetti:
Cook one pound of spaghetti to al dente. Drain and return to the pot. Add two cups of the remaining hot sauce and cook for another minute. Serve the spaghetti, ladling more sauce over each portion. Garnish with basil and Parmesan cheese.

Friday, August 3, 2012

cake for an applesauce party

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on August 1, 2012. 

This year, we skipped church to make applesauce. The whole day stretched open in front of us, and with the promise of unlimited amounts of warm, sweet applesauce at the end, it felt like a holiday.

Before we started on the actual sauce making, we had to set up the assembly line. My husband cleaned off the porch, attached a utility sink to the porch deck railing, and brought the outdoor cookstove over from the barn. I scrubbed washbasket loads of jars, sorted jar lids (we reuse the undamaged ones), and measured the dry ingredients for the gingerbread, a traditional applesauce-day treat.

Turning four bushels of Summer Rambos into sauce is not an everyday challenge, and the kids were quick to get caught up in the festive atmosphere. They clamored for the best jobs, pretty much any task that involved fire, water, sharp blades, or motors.

They were excited to wash the apples and cut them. It’s always a great deal of fun to use my husband’s whippy-fast apple-cutting system. But then the system broke down due to a faulty handheld apple corer and we had to change tactics. My husband laid a long piece of pine on the picnic table, and I handed the kids a bunch of knives and told them to have at it. They chopped most of the apples themselves. We got out the Band-Aids only three times, I think.

The most coveted task of all, however, was the cranking of the apples through the mill. My husband has rigged up a special bit for his drill so the mill can be run with an easy squeeze of the drill’s trigger—I call the method “Drilling for Sauce”—and each time he ladled more mushy, spitting-hot apples into the mill, the eager-beaver kids crowded round, vying to be first.

Late morning, as the first batches of applesauce streamed from the mill, I finished mixing up the gingerbread and popped it into the oven. Soon the scent of peppery molasses was wafting around our heads, too, along with the fragrant smell of tangy-sweet apples.

To serve the cake, I put the pieces on dessert plates and spooned the warm sauce around each square of gingerbread, like spicy castles surrounded by steamy, pale-green moats. I handed out spoons and told everyone to eat all they wanted. It was, after all, an applesauce party.

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook

For a gentler cake, omit the fresh ginger.

3/4 cup strong, dark beer such as Guinness
½ teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup molasses
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup flavorless oil such as canola
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger, optional
1½ cups flour
2 tablespoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon each, baking powder and salt
1/4 teaspoon each, cinnamon and black pepper

Bring the beer to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda. Pour into a large bowl and whisk in the molasses and sugars. Add the eggs, oil, and fresh ginger.

In another bowl, combine the flour, ground ginger, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and black pepper. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in three parts, whisking until smooth after each addition.

Pour the batter into a greased 8x8-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes. Serve with fresh applesauce or a dollop of whipped cream.