Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Smothered Eggplant Sauce Recipe

We have had great success with our eggplants this growing season.  We have been harvesting lots of these medium sized delicious eggplants for weeks now.  We both love eggplant Parm, Baba Ghanoush, fried eggplant, caponata and many other eggplant based recipes.  That said, one of our favorite tomato sauces ever is this luscious blend of good tomatoes and melting chunks of eggplant.  It goes by a number of names:  Nona Sauce, Summer Sauce and Melanzana Affogata (smothered eggplant).

A number of years ago we had dinner at a friends home.  She is an amazing cook and we always learn something from her, along with having fabulous dinners.  Our pasta course that evening was Penne with Nona Sauce.  We could not figure out what the "secret" ingredient to the delicious silky sauce was. Finally she told us. We've been hooked - seriously hooked - ever since.

You can make this with fresh tomatoes or really good (San Maranzano) canned tomatoes. For this recipe I used canned tomatoes.


3 1/2 pounds of really good canned tomatoes 
2 pounds of firm eggplants
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Approx 1 1/2 cups of finely chopped onions
1 - 2 teaspoons salt
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes ("quanto basta" - as much as you like)
3 large Basil branches


Trim and peel the eggplants - it's your call re: the skin.  I like to do a "striped" peeling so I get some of the skin into the recipe. It all depends on the type of eggplant you are using.

Cut the eggplant into 3/4 inch chunks

Over medium heat, Stir together the oil, the onions, and a 1/4 teaspoon salt 
Cook for about 5 minutes stirring frequently, until soft
Add the chopped garlic into the center of the pan - push the onion to the sides - until it just begins to brown

Stir in a tablespoon of water, stir everything together and cook for another minute

Add the eggplant cubes to the pan, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and turn well so that the eggplant cubes get coated with the oil, onion, and garlic

Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently for about 10-12 minutes until the cubes are very soft but not mushy.  If the mixture begins to get dry during the 10-12 minutes, add a bit of water - the eggplant needs the moisture to cook.

Pour in the tomatoes and their juices.  Add one and a half tomato cans full of water to the pot; swirl the water in the can to get all of the tomato sauce.

Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon over the mixture
Add the red pepper flakes
Stir to blend every thing together
Submerge the Basil branches down into the sauce

Cover the pan and raise the heat to medium

When the sauce boils, lower the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for at least 40 minutes. Stir occasionally. 

You want to see the eggplant breaking down and melting into the sauce

Uncover the pot and let the sauce reduce, while stil on simmer - for about 35 - 40 additional minutes, stirring frequently.

When the sauce is the consistency you want, pull out the basil branches and toss them

Note:  this sauce is going to be thick and rich.  Sauces like this are best with shaped pasta, such as Penne, Farfalla, bow ties, etc.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

"Tastes Just Like . . ."

No it doesn't! You know it. I know it. Nobody's fooled.

I despise "artificial" - really artificial anything. But especially artificial food and ingredients. In my opinion, the American way of eating - which seems to be destroying the health of many Americans - is packed way too much with artificial ingredients.

I know some people must avoid certain things - but I am also aware that there are real substitutes for folks with certain allergies and ailments, and they aren't always artificial. 

I recently heard a friend say about someone, "Oh, she's a 'Health Freak'".  This because she used fake butter.  But not just any fake butter - fake spray butter!  Really?  Health conscious? Doubtful. 

It's funny the terms we use. For instance, whenever we run across someone who truly is a limited eater, we call them that, limited.  However, they want to be identified as picky but no, they aren't. Real food lovers are picky.  You know these limited folks. It is rarely a health issue for them, it's that they are afraid of food! I find being out to a meal with limited eaters a real challenge - but it's worse to try to cook for them! What amazes me most about limited eaters is the level of artificial ingredients they ingest on a regular basis. Do a little observation of your own with the limited eaters in your life. Picky wouldn't do that, that's for sure. 

OK - Some of the things on my permanent awful artificial list:  

Diet soda; juices with only 10% juice (huh?); Astro turf; margarine; artificial sweetners of any kind; watered down milk; pleather; food coloring; cheese/not cheese; flowers; all those unpronounceable ingredients in "shelf stable" TV dinners (sorry I don't know what else to call them, I'm a '60's kid); and almost all of the contents in Lean Cuisine - especially whatever they do to create those artificial aromas!

I think we need to send a message to those wacky food "scientists". Stop! 

How do you feel about artificial ingredients? Which ones really bother or worry you? How successful are you in avoiding them?

Recipe:  Homemade Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is a useful ingredient for making not only sauces but homemade ketchup too.  Commercial ketchup and commercial tomato paste contain High Fructose Corn Syrup, which is a great thing to knock out of your diet wherever possible.

This paste keeps in the refrigerator for up to 3 months and you can also do small containers and freeze them! 
Whole tomatoes are available now and it couldn't be easier to make. 


Five pounds of tomatoes chopped - if you can get "paste" tomatoes by all means use them but regular slicing tomatoes will work perfectly
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, plus more for topping off your containers 
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt


Boil the chopped tomatoes - Don't add water - the tomatoes will give off their juices on medium high heat.  You'll have liquid in no time.

Boil the tomatoes for about 8 - 10 minutes

Strain the whole pot to remove skins and seeds - work on this stage. Push the good stuff through your strainer, you want all of that pulp and juice.

Return the juice and pulp to the pot 

Add the olive oil and the salt. Stir

Bring to a boil and keep stirring. 

As the mixture thickens, continue stirring and reduce heat until it starts to reduce to a paste. Stir every minute or so. It will eventually thicken into a nice paste. 

It's done!

Transfer the paste to lidded jars.   Let it cool uncovered.

Top each jar with a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil
Cover and store in the refrigerator or freezer

Easy and all natural!