Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tomato and Bacon Sauce: Dinner in 20 Minutes

Cooking is both art and craft. It is not just a list of ingredients and instructions on how to put them together, but it is hundreds of thousands of years of human experience, history and culture, intuition; cooking communicates love, expresses culture, and feeds more than just the body.

If it were otherwise, we would be hooked up to tubes that fed us goo like in the Matrix. Unfortunately too much of what we eat skates uncomfortably close to this line, and how we produce much of our food crosses this line by a wide margin.

So I give you a quick sauce, which can be built in under an hour, that contains less than ten ingredients. This sauce can be used to build other sauces, it can be added to soups, it can be used with pasta, reduced and used on pizza, it can dress vegetables, top grilled sausages on an Italian hard roll or it can be tossed with onions, peppers, and grilled skirt steak for a cross-cultural fajita.

You too can invent and tweak sauces like this when you begin to understand the basic principals of applying (or not) heat to ingredients in just the right way. So think of this less as a recipe and more as a framework for building flavors, creating a foundation on which you can build. Even a Michelin 3-star meal is built on fundamental techniques, stocks, preparations and mother sauces that anyone, with enough practice, with the right guidance and with a little intuition can pull off.

Tomato Sauce with Bacon*
  • 3 rashers (strips) of bacon, diced into 1/2 inch squares
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 large can of peeled whole tomatoes, hand crushed
  • 2 cups cherry (or other small) whole tomatoes, stemmed, skin on
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon of mildly hot dried pepper flakes
  • salt to taste
  • peppercorns, coarse grind, to taste (I use about 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 ounces of vodka**
  • water
Always cook pasta just short of
al dente, finish in the sauce.
Pour can of tomatoes into a large bowl and crush between your (impeccably clean) fingers.

Heat medium sized (7" diameter, 4" height) saucier to medium-high heat.

Add bacon and enough water to barely cover bacon (about 1/4 cup). Allow water to almost evaporate and add onions.

Sautée until onions begin to become translucent.

Add whole cherry tomatoes and turn heat to high, cover for 2 or 3 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and add vodka, stirring with a wooden spoon.

Use back of spoon to break open tomatoes.

If you know what you are doing, flambé at this point.

I strongly recommend against this for novices. 

Return to low flame and add pepper flakes, crushed tomatoes, peppercorns and stir.

Turn heat back up until mixture, stirring constantly, begins to bubble.

Cover and reduce heat and let simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and adjust seasoning by adding salt or pepper if needed. Sauce is ready to use.

In half the time or less that it takes to build this sauce, you can boil hard pasta (7-8 minutes) or fresh pasta or gnocchi (3-5 minutes).

* If you must, you can leave out the bacon. Hippy.

** Tomatoes contain savory compounds that can only be dissolved in alcohol. You can leave this out, if you do not wish to cook with alcohol, and still have a terrific sauce.