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.


Guacamole

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Photo Credit: Instantparty.com, 2019.

For weekend get togethers,  your guests will forgive you if your party lacks guac. Make some in no time with the easy, no-frills recipe! Mushed avocado and diced tomatoes, onion, and jalapeno or habanero peppers give it a fresh, feisty kick that’ll make your mouth water! Pair it with classic Margaritas, if you like. 

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 Haas avocados, peeled and diced
1/2 tomato, finely diced
1/2 onion, finely diced
1/2 habanero or jalapeño pepper, finely diced
1 garlic glove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Dash of lime juice
Salt, to taste
Tortilla chips, for serving
Pita bread, for serving

Directions:

In a bowl, mush avocados until slightly chunky.

Add tomato, onion, peppers, garlic, cilantro, lime and salt. Mix together.

Serve immediately with tortilla chips, vegetables or pita bread.

 


Calas: A New Orleans Tradition

 

It’s Mardi Gras, and down in New Orleans, the King Cakes, beignets and other gustatory delights are flowing freely. But if you prefer your culinary temptations with a side of history, allow me to introduce you to the calas, a Creole rice fritter with a storied past.

Never heard of a calas? Most people outside of New Orleans never heard of them either.

It’s basically a rice fritter. Calas are just one of the many rice dishes that actually made the journey during the Middle Passage across the Atlantic Ocean. Calas are made of leftover rice mixed into a sugary egg batter, then deep fried and served dusted with confectioner’s sugar. 

To  me, they are kind of like beignets, only better — with a more interesting backstory. Calas were once a vital part of African-American livelihood in the New Orleans, and even helped some slaves there buy their freedom. The cala became a very important part of New Orleans’ history.

Scholars think slaves from the rice-growing regions of Africa  who were brought to the Carolinas specifically to  grow rice.  And as slavery spread down to the Gulf Coast, calas  were eventually brought to Louisiana. Some culinary historians can trace calas to Ghana, others, to Liberia and Sierra Leone. If you were to go to Africa today, to Ghana or Liberia, you would find the women in the open-air markets making calas.

330px-Le_Code_Noir_1742_edition.jpgIn 1685, during the days of French rule, New Orleans was ruled by the Le Code Noir or the “Black Codes”, a decree originally passed by France’s King Louis XIV. The Code Noir defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonial empire, restricted the activities of free Negroes, also known as free people of color,  and forbade the exercise of any religion other than Roman Catholicism, and expelled all Jews from France’s colonies.

The code has been described by Tyler Stovall as “one of the most extensive official documents on race, slavery, and freedom ever drawn up in Europe”.  The Code Noir resulted in a far higher percentage of blacks being free people of color during this period where the free color populations  was 13.2% in Louisiana compared to 0.8% in Mississippi. In by 21st Century standards, they were on average exceptionally literate and highly educated, sending their children abroad to study in some of Europe’s finest universities at the time.  Many were were doctors and lawyers, with a significant number of them owning businesses, properties and even slaves. Today, most people  are unaware that the free people of color were highly successful in the era of slavery. It was a very different climate in New Orleans than in the rest of the United States at the time.

In the Code Noir, it was stated that  all slaves were required calasby law to have at least one day a week off. The slaves’ day off usually was Sunday. Many of them would become street vendors. And so after church, African women would roam the streets of the French Quarter touting their wares with the chant, “Calas, calas! Belles calas tout chauds, madame, belles calas tout chauds!” — “Beautiful calas! Very hot!”

When the Spanish took control of Louisiana in the 1760s, they brought with them a powerful legal instrument, coartacion ,a specific type of manumission that pertained to slavery in the Hispanic Caribbean, through which slaves were allowed to purchase their freedom on a gradual basis. They were considered ‘free’ in exchange for compensation for the slave owner. In other words, coartacion  gave slaves the right to buy their freedom. For enslaved black women in the city, selling calas was a key way to earn money for these purchases. These women were able to buy freedom for their families and for themselves.

More than 1,400 New Orleans slaves bought their freedom under Spanish rule. But it’s not clear just how many did so with calas money.

African-American culinary historian Jessica B. Harris  has noted  in her writings that not all calas vendors were enslaved. And the ones who were  slaves often sold them for their mistresses. If they were lucky, they were allowed to keep a portion of the money, or perhaps have it go towards their freedom.

Americans ended the practice of coartacion soon after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. But New Orleans remained home to thousands of free blacks – and throughout the 1800s, many of them, especially women, made their living selling calas and other street foods.

In the 20th century, these vendors slowly disappeared, until, by 1940, according to an old Works Progress Administration report, just a single calas street merchant remained.

But indoors, calas “remained popular as a home treat” among African-Americans — especially during Mardi. Friends and neighbors prepared calas for their families and for the maskers who stopped by for a little ‘recess’ from their parading.

And the fritters did survive in at least one public eating space: The Old Coffeepot Restaurant, a French Quarter breakfast joint, where they’ve been on the menu for decades.

Waitress Gaynell James serves up calas cake from the kitchen at The Old Coffeepot Restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans on Jan. 28, 2013.

Waitress Gaynell James Serves up calas from the kitchen at The Old Coffeepot Restaurant in the French Quarter. Gerald Herbert/AP 2013.

After chef Frank Brigsten purchased Charlie’s in 2009, he replaced hushpuppies on the menu at the longtime neighborhood seafood joint —a fixture in Harahan, outside New Orleans, since the 1950s—with a savory take on calas. They have gotten to be so  popular that the restaurant now serve shrimp calas as an appetizer.

 In recent years, calas have also made their way into a higher-profile tradition as well.2010-Calas-Lady-_vo
In 1990, New Orleans’ Haydel’s Bakery revived the old tradition of including miniature porcelain dolls in their Mardi Gras King Cakes.  The Original 1990 Frozen Charlotte Doll quickly became a collector’s item.  Since then,  Haydel’s has choosen a different porcelain figure  that celebrates one of the traditions of  the city’s beloved Mardi Gras heritage and bakes them  into  their famous King Cakes. In 2010, that figurine was in the shape of the iconic calas lady, her basket of “belle calas” balanced on her head —not forgotten. a symbol of a New Orleans long gone but, but still alive in the hearts of many.

And so the cala, a rice dish that is a part of New Orleans’ history, will be saved for future generations to come with this recipe that is presented below.

Makes About 2 Dozen

Ingredients:
2 cups cooked white rice
6 Tablespoons all purpose flour
3 heaping Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
5-6 cups vegetable oil, for frying
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Directions:

Mix the rice with flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the vanilla and mix well.

Add eggs and when thoroughly mixed, drop by tablespoonfuls into the hot oil , heated to 360 ° F. Fry until browned on both sides.

Using a spyder, remove the fritters from the oil and drain on baking sheet lined  with paper towels. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve hot with coffee or Cafe au Lait. 

 

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