Marcella Hazan’s Famous Tomato Sauce

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When it comes to essentials, like tomato sauce, originality is overrated. Marcella Hazan’s classic tomato sauce is famous and adored, and justly so. Scads of bloggers and food writers have written about it, so I’m just following along, here in The Quarantined Kitchen Diaries. This is one of the best sauces I know, and you only need four (yes, four) ingredients.

But first of all, I know what you are thinking. Who was Marcella Hazan? Right?

Marcella Hazan (née Polini; April 15, 1924 – September 29, 2013) was an Italian-born cooking writer whose books were published in English. Her cookbooks are credited with introducing the public in the United States and Britain to the techniques of traditional Italian cooking. She was considered by chefs and fellow food writers to be the doyenne of Italian cuisine.

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Marcella Hazan

 

Born in the town of Cesentaico in Emilia Romagana, she earned her doctoral degree in Natural Sciences and Biology from the University of Ferrara. In 1955 she married Victor Hazan and the couple moved to New York City a few months later. Hazan had never cooked before her marriage; she was an academic who did not have time to cook. As she recounted in the introduction to her 1997 book, Marcella Cucina,

“there I was, having to feed a young, hard-working husband who could deal cheerfully with most life’s ups and downs, but not with an indifferent meal. In Italy, I would not have wasted time thinking about it. My mother cooked, my father cooked, both my grandmothers cooked, even the farm girls who came in to clean could cook. In the kitchen of my New York apartment there was no one.”


She began using her husband’s cookbooks from Italy, but found them disappointing as she realized that her clear memory of the flavors she grew up with in Italy allowed her to reproduce her family’s recipes for herself. “Eventually, I learned that some of the methods I adopted were idiosyncratically my own,” she recalled, “but for most of them I found corroboration in the practices of traditional Italian cooks.”

Hazan began giving cooking lessons in her apartment and later opened her own cooking school in 1969. The cookbooks followed, concentrating strictly on simple Italian cookery, where food is prepared painstakingly by hand rather than machine and without American or British influences. To that end, her recipes called for ingredients typical of the Italian home and were designed to compliment the typical Italian meal that balanced two principal courses, followed by a salad and a dessert.

This classic sauce will show you once and for all that homemade tomato sauce can be so simple to make. You only need four ingredients, including a can of whole plum tomatoes, to be rewarded with a rich, velvety sauce that is blissfully delicious.

The idea behind this tomato sauce is simple: Simmer a can of tomatoes with an onion and five tablespoons of butter. Add a pinch of salt and pull out the onion at the end, and what you are left with is a bright, velvety tomato sauce with a rich roundness from the butter. The butter doesn’t cut the edges of the tomatoes’ tanginess in the way that sugar does; instead it complements the brightness and makes it shine.

This tomato sauce is also entirely hands-off; so you don’t even have mince or chop the onion. It’s a great way to knock a meal together with a few pantry staples. Serve it over pasta with a flurry of cheese, and enjoy tomato sauce with the flair of restaurant richness.

Buon appetito!

 

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SERVES 2 to 4

INGREDIENTS:

One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, no salt or herbs added

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small white onion, peeled and cut in half

Kosher salt

For Serving:

1 pound Cooked pasta

Shaved Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Add the tomatoes, butter, onion halves, and a pinch of salt in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, stirring and crushing the tomatoes lightly with the back of a spoon occasionally, until droplets of fat appear on the surface of the tomatoes, about 45 minutes.

Remove and discard the onion.

Serve over hot pasta with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

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COOK’S NOTES:

Adapted in my own words from Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.”

Basically, you can use what you have on hand to make this sauce. I personally like the Cento brand of San Marzan canned tomato because the product does not contain calcium chloride as a preservative . Also, this variety seems the most balanced, while other cooks with taste more of the acidity in this brand. If you find that your sauce in this recipe is a bit too acidic, add a bit of sugar, to taste.

If you do not have any small white onions on hand, feel free to use red onions, yellow onion or vadalia onions. Looking in my pantry, I was short on small to medium onions and made do with the pearl onions I had on hand.

If desired, you can add cracked black pepper or crushed red pepper flakes to add a bit of spice to your sauce.

But remember, for each substitution, you will change the flavor profile of the original recipe……and that is okay.

Remember, recipes are designed to be guides that allow for experimentation and improvisation in your kitchen, because every cook, whether they are professionals, advanced home cooks or novices just beginning will find what suits them to the best of their abilities.


Kentucky Transparent Pie

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Photo Credit: Spruce Eats, 2017.

I am a Southerner with a sweet tooth and Kentucky Transparent Pie fits the bill as a custard pie that is a sweet as it can get as a dessert. Similar to a chess pie, buttermilk pie, vinegar pie or sugar pie, this version of the pie is made with half brown sugar and half granulated sugar. Many of Kentucky’s pies feature bourbon, one of their most famous exports and I am sure that you could slip a dram or two into your pie if you desire. Basically, the simple combination of ingredients makes a filling to die for!

The most well known Kentucky Transparent Pie can be found at Magee’s Bakery in Lexington, Kentucky. Usually around Thanksgiving, there is a rush for the pie found on the bakery shelves. Maysville, Kentucky is about 70 miles northeast of Lexington, and is the home of the original Magee’s Bakery, which opened in the 1930s. Magee’s is known for popularizing the Transparent Pie.

Although the pie is not “transparent” the pie filling is really just a pale shade of yellow.

In terms of culinary history, Transparent Pie goes way back to the frontier days, where families made pies using whatever pantry goods they had on hand. They had no refrigeration in those days, and these pies did not have to be refrigerated. It was determined many years ago, that Transparent Pie originated in Kentucky, and not just anywhere in Kentucky, but in the Maysville Kentucky area. Transparent Pie is a very well-known pie in Maysville area, although it is not well-known to many people, even in the most populous parts of Kentucky.

While the attention-grabbing name is unique — and first started appearing in Kentucky newspaper advertisements and articles in the 1890s — food historian Sarah Baird says the dessert actually closely resembles pies from other regions of the United States. While a pie crust is the ideal vessel for just about anything edible, in Kentucky, nuts and chocolate reign king among pie fillings. Sugary custard pies also have their own special place in Kentucky culinary history. Transparent pie, buttermilk pie, vinegar pie, sugar pie and Jefferson Davis Pie, all made with the basic ingredients, these pies are all comparable in recipe and method, but have a distinctness and regional popularity that is all their own.

Throughout much of the Appalachian Mountains and certainly into the eastern parts of Kentucky, chess pie is a potluck essential. Most food historians believe that the word chess is simply slang for English cheese pie filling. Others say that the word is “chest,” spoken with a Southern drawl, because these sugary pies could be stored in a pie chest rather than being refrigerated. And yet others believe it to be a run-on version of the words “just pie.” Because of its simple ingredients (eggs, sugar and butter) with no added nuts, fruits or candies, it is “jes’ pie” or chess pie.

Jefferson Davis Pie is also popular throughout the South but had a historical presence at Berea College’s well-known Southern inn, the Boone Tavern, throughout the mid-1900s. Richard T. Hougen, manager of the inn, was said to have taught all Boone Tavern pastry chefs how to make Jefferson Davis Pie for hotel guests and visiting dignitaries to enjoy. Wherein chess pie and Jefferson Davis Pie can be found throughout the Deep South, Kentucky claims the transparent pie as their very own.

“When you go into Indiana you have sugar pies,” Baird says. “It’s kind of a kissing-cousin of shoofly pie, which is in Pennsylvania.”

Baird also mentions chess pies, originally found in New England, and Southern buttermilk pies. All of these have the same simple sugary liquid filling that is baked down in a shell.

Baird did some in-depth research on the origin of the transparent pie for her book Kentucky Sweets. She thinks part of its original popularity — and the popularity of similar variations — was due to its accessibility to rural families.

“What everyone in my research kept coming back to over and over is that it’s a pie that doesn’t require something expensive like pecans,” Baird says. “They are kind of farm ingredients, right? You are going to have all those ingredients in the pantry or on the farm. You can go get the eggs, you will have the cream.”

She says the actual origin of the transparent name is still kind of a mystery — but it’s something that is definitely unique to the Maysville area.

McGeesTransparentPie-13_FotorMagee’s Bakery concocted the recipe for this silky, custard pie. The bakery, located on Market Street, has been making these pies for over 60 years. They make regular size pie and portable small tarts. And according to social media, these little transparent tarts are the favorite pie of actor George Clooney, who grew up in Augusta, Kentucky, who always sings the praises of Transparent Pie. Clooney, not only travels to Maysville to purchase Transparent tarts and pies, but has bought them to share at movie sets and television studios with his crew and colleagues ……but then again, they are probably the favorite pie of anyone who grew up in the Maysville area!

Makes 1 Pie, Serves 8

Ingredients:
For the Pastry:
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar (granulated)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (chilled or frozen, cut into small pieces)
3 to 4 tablespoons of ice water

For the Filling:
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whipped Cream, for serving

Directions:
In a food processor pulse the flour, salt, and sugar until well blended. Add half of the butter and pulse about 6 times. Add the remaining butter and pulse 5 or 6 times. The mixture should look crumbly with pea-sized pieces here and there. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of ice water over the flour mixture and pulse a few times. Add more ice water, a teaspoon at a time, until the mixture begins to form small clumps.

Toss the mixture out onto a floured surface and press and shape with your hands until the dough holds together. Don’t overwork the dough. Shape it into a flat disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 45 minutes.

Heat the oven to 450° F (230° C/Gas 8).

Roll the chilled dough out about 2 inches bigger than the pie plate (upside-down). Fit it into the pie plate and crimp the edge as desired. Line the pie shell (do not prick the dough) with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans.

Bake the pie shell for 8 minutes. Remove the foil and pie weights, return it to the oven, and bake for another 3 minutes. Remove the crust to a baking sheet and reduce the oven temperature to 350 °F (180° C/Gas 4).

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the sugar, flour, melted butter, cream, salt, and vanilla. Blend well. Pour the filling mixture into the crust. Place a pie shield over the crust edge to prevent excessive browning. Transfer the pie to the 350 F oven (baking sheet and all) and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the pie shield and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, or until set.

Cool on a rack and then chill thoroughly in a refrigerator before serving.

Slice the chilled pie and serve it, topped with freshly whipped cream.

Cook’s Note:
If you choose to use a pre-made frozen crust or refrigerated pastry, follow the instructions for partially baking the pie shell. Even though you can bake the pie with an unbaked crust, a par-baked crust is recommended to avoid a soggy bottom.


Kentucky Bourbon Balls

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Photo Credit: Christin Marhling, 2018.

These boozy bite-sized treats—were developed in 1936 by Ruth Booe, co-founder of the Rebecca Ruth Candy Co. in Frankfort, Kentucky—can be rolled in powdered sugar or dipped in melted chocolate and topped with pecan halves; on the inside, the creamy center usually consists of some combination of bourbon, sugar, butter, chopped pecans, and semisweet chocolate. These trifles are chilled rather than cooked and do pack a tipsy punch, so you may wish to warn younger or teetotalling guests of their alcohol contents.

 

Makes 24

Ingredients:
1 cup finely chopped pecans nuts
5 tablespoons Kentucky bourbon
1/2 cup butter, softened
One 16-ounce  package confectioners’ sugar
8 ounces semisweet chocolate

Directions:
Place the nuts in a resealable jar. Pour the bourbon over the nuts. Cover and allow the nuts to soak overnight.

The following day, mix the butter and sugar; fold in the soaked nuts. Form into 3/4″ balls and place on a waxed paper lined baking sheet and  refrigerate overnight.

The next day, line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over just-barely simmering water, stirring frequently and scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula to avoid scorching. Roll the balls in the melted chocolate to coat. Place a pecan half on top of each ball and  arrange them on the prepared tray. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.