Passata My Ass – and a great Pomodoro Sauce

27 09 2012

Have I mentioned before what a pain it is to be a food snob?  Working around the food business, owning and now managing a gourmet shop, and eating some seriously good food from New York City to Las Vegas and right here at home has turned me into a snob with a low tolerance for crappy food.  I have an even lower tolerance for people putting their mugs in front of TV cameras and acting as if they know something when they don’t.  I found a fellow blogger who has a seriously hard time with this food TV explosion we are experiencing and I love to read his rants.  Saves me from having to say things myself – I can just agree with him.

As tired as I am of most of the offerings on Food Network and Cooking Channel, I at least respect the fact that they run a tight ship and check their facts before letting their stars say things that aren’t true on camera.  I was watching Rachel Ray’s talk show on CBS the other morning – not on purpose, it was just on.  So she’s dumping this stuff that looks like chunky tomato juice into a pot on her stove and she calls the stuff Passata.  She proceeded to bumble and babble and fall flat on her face trying to explain what the hell passata is – and she failed.  She said it was like fresh tomatoes, but not really, and sold in a jar, not a can, and, well, just get some it’s real good.  Right.  She is clueless.  I don’t know what that stuff was she poured into the pot but it was way too chunky to be true passata.  Apparently she has fallen victim to some clever marketing on the part of someone who put some crushed tomatoes in a jar instead of a can and called it passata.  Americans are so gullible; our love affair with all things European has made a lot of folks very rich and perpetuated some serious BS.  I’m just sayin’.

Passata is, really, a pure tomato juice from which most of the pulp and all of the seeds has been removed through repeated pressing/juicing.  If you make it, it is indeed a very fresh taste that is a fabulous burst of flavor in the winter when fresh tomatoes are not growing in your backyard.  But if, like me, you don’t own a passapomodoro – the machine used to squish all the liquid out of the tomatoes – then you probably buy tomato juice or tomato puree in a can.  Just like me.  If you get the no-salt-added variety it is a delicious addition to many dishes.

Having gotten my knickers in a snit over Rach’s very public fumble that CBS didn’t bother to clean up before it aired on national television, I felt like cooking.  But I was still too sick so I didn’t.  Today, I think I may have turned the corner.  So I ventured out and picked up a few things I didn’t have so I can make lasagna because I need some stick-to-my-ribs comfort food.  Step one:  make the sauce.  I am making extra sauce to put a little in the freezer for later when I don’t want to cook.  If you have a family of four this is probably only enough sauce for one hearty meal.  Since I am but one person (and the dog is on a no-human-food diet), I will have extra.

There are two things I normally like to have for my tomato sauce that I didn’t have today: bay leaves and celery (you know I like my bay leaves because I ran out; most people have them forever, like, that same jar).  Hey, I’m not Italian, so there are no rules in my kitchen other than don’t burn anything if you can help it.  I know some Italians that would object to the bay leaves saying it was a Greek thing or a Turkish thing.  What.  Ever.  Anyhow, today I didn’t have bay leaves or celery, so I used the other usual suspects:  half a large onion; several small carrots; 4 large cloves of garlic that I chopped up fine with a teaspoon of salt; and a small summer squash (seeded) in lieu of the celery I didn’t have.  My seasonings were 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper, 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves (sort of in lieu of the bay leaves; the Italians would say it’s more of a pizzaiola sauce with the addition of the oregano – whatever), 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves, and another tablespoon of salt.  My tomato products were a large can (28 oz) of no-salt-added crushed tomatoes and a small can (6 oz) of no-salt-added tomato paste which I reconstituted in 3 cans of water (that’s 18 ounces of water for my math challenged friends).  I sautéed the diced vegetables in a couple tablespoons of olive oil until the onions were clear, then added the seasonings and tomato products.  Once the simmering starts in earnest, turn down to a bare simmer and just keep cooking, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until all the flavors develop and the sauce is thickened, about an hour.  I leave a lid on the pot tilted a bit so some steam can escape.  Now taste and adjust your seasonings.  I added a heaping tablespoon of sugar because the sauce was very acidic – a common problem with canned tomato products.  This does not make the sauce sweet at all; it neutralizes the acidity and makes the tomato flavor really rich.

The can makes a handy spoon rest too!

Now you can do anything you want with this sauce – dip bread in it, use it for your lasagna, toss it on pasta, dress your meatballs with it, use it as a pizza sauce – just any little thing you’d like to do!  You can easily double or triple this recipe for a big family gathering.  You can add some elegance with a ½ cup or so of dry red wine added to the veggies and cooked off for about 5 minutes before adding the tomato products.  You can use an immersion blender to completely puree the veggies to make this sauce smooth as silk.  Whatever floats your boat.  This is so much better than any sauce you can buy prepared, and it took me only 10 minutes to prepare and an hour to cook with very little effort on my part.  Low sodium, big flavor, easy peasy.

OK, time for me to eat.  Did I mention that my friend Roberta and her husband Jim have a bakery?  (Roberta is one of those Italians that would probably not approve of my bay leaf addition to the tomato sauce.)  If you are on Facebook check them out here.  She brought me bread and cookies yesterday.  That must be why I feel better today!  Yum.

Peace and Ponzu Pork Tenderloin

24 06 2012

I don’t subscribe to a particular religion but am a spiritual person.  I won’t get into my specific beliefs here because everyone has a right to live as they choose and not be subjected to unwanted proselytizing from the likes of me.  For me, acquiring belief in a power greater than myself and the awareness of my connection to that power has brought peace to my life and transformed my relationships with other people.  I see that power at work in every aspect of my life and it opens me to see opportunities that I would miss if I weren’t paying attention.  This is especially true in the midst of so many changes in my life in this moment in time.

When facing a crossroads in life, many before me have asked, “Can you really ever go home again?”  Until recently, I was firmly on the “no” side, knowing that while you can go to a physical place and find it to be much the same as you remember, the people – including you – have evolved and the experience will not be the same.  So you can’t “go home” again in the metaphorical sense, because that moment in time is gone forever.  But can you go back to a town you have lived in before, or a job you have had before, and be happy and content despite the changes?

For me, such a crossroads presented itself recently.  I wrote about it in my post entitled Sunny Side Up.  I am now about two weeks into my return to my previous business, this time as the general manager instead of the proprietress.  My duties and responsibilities are clearly defined, and so far the owner and I are sticking to our agreements regarding these things.  It has been a busy two weeks filled with cooking and wine events and lots of customers, so the paperwork is stacking up a little bit.  But I know I only need a solid day at the desk to get things caught up and will be arranging such a day for myself next month.  I know because I have been there before.  It can wait.

Right now, I am busy cleaning, merchandising, reorganizing, and training new staff.  One staff member had given her notice before my return; another gave her notice last week; and yet another gave me no notice at all when she came in for her shift this past Monday and pronounced it was her last day because she found another job.  That is everyone.  But the universe knew this was coming and quickly put some folks in my path that seem like they will work out just fine.  I also have another person on ‘Alert 5’ (sorry, love me some Top Gun) who will be a fine addition to the staff if any of the others don’t work out.  See?  Peace prevails through the crazy when you see change as opportunity rather than inconvenience.

It seems that the universe has cleared a path for my return ‘home.’  The complete turnover in staff allows me to implement the new strategies the owner and I have discussed without the drama of resistance from those who have grown accustomed to things being a certain way.  This is business, and to be successful – sometimes just to survive – you have to be dispassionate, logical, and decisive.  Merchandise that isn’t selling might as well be stolen for all the good it’s doing for your bottom line.  Yet sometimes we get attached to things in life and don’t want to let them go.  I am in a place now where I am able to cut losses and do what must be done without getting emotional about it.  That is exactly what I am doing.  Out with the old, in with the new, focus on what works, get rid of what doesn’t.  It’s all about priorities.

I suggest you make it a priority to make this Ponzu sauce.  It will keep in the fridge for, oh, a while.  Not as long as ketchup, but much longer than eggs.  Your nose will tell you when it’s time to toss it.  I’ve not had to toss it before it was gone yet.  Some of the ingredients on their own are unappealing.  Combined in this lovely potion, they are phenomenal.  If you don’t have an Asian market in your neck of the woods, you can get the Konbu and Bonito Flakes via the http://www.  In a pinch, you can contact me and I will arrange to mail you some.  They have a forever kind of shelf life (they are dried), so no worries about waste.  And they are crucial to this preparation.  The Bonito Flakes stink.  You can’t smell them in the final preparation – yet that slightly salty ocean-like nuance that they and the konbu give the sauce really makes it special.

I also used this sauce on my stir-fried veggies, for which you should preheat your pan on high and toss the veggies frequently to attain that ‘crisp-tender’ texture.  I served my pork with the veggies and some South Carolina rice cooked with veggie stock (instead of water) and a bunch of chopped scallions.

Happy cooking!  I have to go to work now.

Ponzu Sauce

2/3 cup Lemon Juice, more to taste

1/3 cup Lime Juice, more to taste

¼ cup Rice Vinegar

1 cup Soy Sauce (I use the Tamari variety – it’s tastier and gluten free)

¼ cup Mirin (or 1/4 cup sake and 1 tablespoon sugar)

1 3-inch piece Kelp (konbu)

½ cup (about ¼ ounce) dried Bonito Flakes

Pinch Ground Cayenne Pepper

In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Let sit for at least 2 hours or overnight. Strain. Just before using, you might add a small squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice.  Makes about 2 ½ cups.

Ponzu Marinated Pork Tenderloin

2 cups Ponzu Sauce 

Juice and Zest of 1 large Orange

½ cup Canola or Vegetable Oil

1 Pork Tenderloin, trimmed, silver skin removed

Combine ponzu, oil, juice, and zest in a Ziploc bag.  Add the tenderloin to the marinade, squeeze the air out of the bag, close and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.  Don’t marinate overnight – it will just be too much flavor-wise.

Preheat your grill or grill pan over medium-high heat.  Sear the tenderloin for about 2 minutes per side.  Reduce heat to medium and grill an additional 5 minutes per side.

Remove from heat and tent with foil.  Rest for 5 minutes.  Slice into 1” thick rounds and serve.

(In the picture of the finished dish, you can see how deeply the marinade penetrated the meat – yum!)

Serves 4.


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