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Bless Your Spoon: Fresh is the hallmark for making a good sauce

A good, homegrown tomato is all the culinary motivation I need.  From simple tomato sandwiches to rich marinara over angel hair pasta – ideas for delicious meals are limitless.  The crop’s an endless craving at the peak of tomato season.

Inspiration for today’s recipes came from the quaint Italian establishment off Gaither Street, right here in town.   You’ll discover a few delicious sauces that reflect authentic tastes of Italy.

Summer’s the optimal time to make fresh tomato sauce. But you can prepare great meals using canned Italian plum tomatoes – any time of the year. Italian cooking calls for the freshest ingredients – buy the best meats, produce, and cheeses you can find – never scrimp here. For authentic flavor, always use Italian cheeses. Soft cheese should be fresh. When using grating cheeses like Parmesan, it’s cheaper to buy in wedges and grate it yourself – the flavor and texture of freshly grated cheeses truly make a difference in taste.

Make the most of seasonal herbs and produce that’s available to you. Stay stocked with oregano, basil, sage, parsley, and rosemary, along with olives, capers, anchovies, and garlic. Don’t let the list of recipe ingredients daunt you – most are just spices. Tasty tomatoes accented by spices are the hallmark of delicious spaghetti sauce. Just remember dried herbs are more potent than fresh.

In Italy, the big meal of the day is lunch. Dinner is served after 7 pm and is similar to lunch but lighter. Heavy meals end in fruit, while lighter meals are followed by cake or cookie and then fruit. Bread is rarely served with pasta.

So when planning, why not do as the Italians do?

SLICED TOMATO SALAD

4 large tomatoes

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. minced garlic

½ tsp. oregano leaves

Peel and slice tomatoes. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, salt, garlic, and oregano. Arrange tomatoes in shallow dish. Pour marinade over tomatoes. Cover and refrigerate 3 hours. Serve over lettuce.

COUNTRY STYLE FRESH TOMATOES

8 oz. softened cream cheese

3 minced cloves garlic

¼ cup chopped parsley

1/8 tsp. salt

2 tsp chopped fresh basil

4 large fresh tomatoes

½ cup all-purpose flour

3 eggs

3 Tbsp. whole milk

1 cup fine bread crumbs or Panko

4 Tbsp. salted butter

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Fresh basil

In a mixer bowl, combine cream cheese, garlic, parsley, salt, and basil. Cut tomatoes into 12 slices that are ½-inch thick slices. Spread 6 slices of tomato with cream cheese mixture. Top with remaining slices to make 6 sandwiches. Dip each sandwich in flour, then in egg with milk, and then in bread crumbs. In a skillet, heat butter and oil. Fry one side of a sandwich at a time on medium heat until brown. Turn over and repeat.  When done, garnish with fresh basil or parsley.

FRESH GARDEN SAUCE FOR PASTA

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 chopped yellow onions

4 split garlic cloves

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil

2 tsp. salt

6 sprigs parsley

1 Tbsp. sugar

4 lbs. peeled, chopped tomatoes

In large pot, heat oil. Add onion, garlic, basil, and salt. Saute 5 minutes until onion is translucent. Discard garlic. Stir in parsley, sugar, and chopped tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 2 hours until thickened. Remove parsley.

MARINARA SAUCE

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 crushed garlic cloves

1/3 cup chopped parsley

28 oz. undrained tomatoes

1 tsp. dried oregano leaves

½ tsp. salt

Dash of pepper

In a large pot, heat oil. Saute garlic and parsley 4 minutes. Add tomatoes, oregano, salt, and pepper. Mash tomatoes with the back of a fork. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce and simmer uncovered while occasionally stirring for 30 minutes or until thickened. Makes enough sauce for ½ lb. of pasta or 2 ½ cups.

SPAGHETTI WITH TOMATO SAUCE

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup finely chopped green pepper

1/3 cup finely chopped onion

2 chopped garlic cloves

28 oz. undrained tomatoes

8 oz. tomato sauce

½ tsp. dried oregano

½ tsp. dried basil

2 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp pepper

8 oz. spaghetti

3 quarts boiling water

1 Tbsp. salt

Grated fresh Parmesan cheese

In a saucepan, saute green pepper, onion, and garlic for 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, sauce, oregano, basil, sugar, salt, and pepper. Stir to break up tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer covered while occasionally stirring for 40 minutes. Simmer uncovered for another 20 minutes. Cook spaghetti uncovered in boiling water with salt for 8-10 minutes or just tender. Drain, rinse with hot water, and drain again.  Serve the spaghetti with sauce poured over. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese

MEAT AND TOMATO SAUCE

1 lb. lean ground beef

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 chopped onion

4 minced cloves garlic

1 lb. chopped tomatoes

6 oz. tomato paste

¼ tsp. oregano

1/8 tsp thyme

1/8 tsp. basil

½ cup sweet vermouth.

1 lb. spaghetti

In a skillet, heat oil. Brown meat with onions and garlic. Drain fat. To a pot, add tomatoes, tomato paste, meat mixture, herbs, and vermouth. Simmer 45 minutes until thickened. Makes enough for 1 pound of spaghetti. Serve over cooked spaghetti. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

ITALIAN MEAT SAUCE WITH WINE

¼ cup salted butter

1 cup chopped onion

2 minced cloves garlic

1 cup chopped mushroom

1 lb. lean ground beef

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

½ cup beef stock

¼ cup dry red wine

½ can tomato paste

2 ½ cups canned tomatoes

1 Tbsp. parsley

In a skillet, melt butter. Saute onion and garlic 5 minutes. Add meat and mushrooms and cook until slightly brown. Add flour, stock, wine, paste, tomatoes, and parsley. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes. If too thick, add more wine. Top spaghetti with meat sauce. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

BAKED MANICOTTI

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

3 crushed cloves garlic

35 oz. undrained, Italian tomatoes

6 oz. tomato paste

1½ cups water

2 tsp. sugar

3 sprigs parsley

1 tsp. dried oregano leaves

½ tsp. dried basil

1 Tbsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

Filling

2 beaten eggs

2 lbs. ricotta cheese

8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp. chopped parsley

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

Manicotti shells

Freshly grated parmesan cheese

In a pot, heat oil and saute onion and garlic for 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, paste, water, parsley, oregano, basil, sugar, salt, and pepper. Mash tomatoes with a fork. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered while occasionally stirring for 1 hour. For the filling, in a mixer bowl, beat eggs. Add ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Cook pasta according to directions. Place ¼ cup of filling in each shell. In a 13 x 9 baking dish, spoon some sauce on bottom. Place shells seam side down in a single layer in the dish. Cover with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered in a 350-degree oven. For 40 minutes.

BAKED ZITI CASSEROLE

1 recipe of Manicotti/other tomato sauce

1 lb. cooked, drained ziti macaroni

30 oz. ricotta cheese

8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 eggs

2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Make tomato sauce recipe from a recipe. Set aside. In a bowl, combine ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan cheese, eggs, parsley, salt, and pepper. Beat until well blended. Spoon a little tomato sauce in bottom of a 5-quart casserole dish. Layer 1/3 of ziti, 1/3 of cheese mixture, and 1/3 sauce. Repeat twice, ending with sauce. Sprinkle top with Parmesan cheese.  Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes or until bubbly. Can be made ahead, refrigerated and reheated.

PEACHES IN MARSALA

1 lb. peeled, sliced fresh peaches

sugar

½ cup sweet Marsala

1 Tbsp. cream

1-inch cinnamon stick

Peel and slice peaches. Add sugar to peach slices to taste. Allow to sit and drain. Reserve 1 Tbsp. of peach syrup. In a bowl, combine peaches, Marsala, cinnamon stick, and syrup. Refrigerate covered until chilled.

MACAROONS

2 egg whites

1 ½ cups ground blanched almonds

1 cup sifted confectioners sugar

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp. almond extract

½ tsp. vanilla extract

Blanched almonds

In a mixer bowl, allow egg whites to warm to room temp for an hour. In another bowl, combine ground almonds and sugar. Mix well. Beat egg whites with salt until stiff peaks form. Stir almond mixture into the beaten eggs. Add almond and vanilla extract. Mix just until combined. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets, placing 2 inches apart. Top each with a blanched almond. Bake in a 300-degree oven for 20 minutes until light brown. Remove to wire rack and allow to cool completely.

TORTONI DESSERT

8 oz. softened cream cheese

1 cup white corn syrup

1 cup whole milk

1 cup chopped macaroons

½ cup chopped pecans

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. almond extract

Maraschino cherries

In a mixer bowl, combine cream cheese, syrup, and milk. Mix until smooth. Stir in macaroons, pecans, and flavorings. Mix well. Spoon into paper baking cups placed in a muffin pan. Freeze until firm. When ready to serve, set out until only partially frozen. Garnish with a cherry. Makes 4 cups.