Summertime is perfect for a good red sauce

July 18, 2012 

Most of us think there is nothing so quintessentially Italian as a red sauce, but this tomato-based sauce is used far more frequently in this country than in Italy.

In fact the "Silver Spoon," Italy's best-selling cookbook for more than 50 years, lists more than 100 recipes that include tomatoes but only eight that require tomato sauce.

Italians love their tomatoes, a New World food, but prefer them whole or stuffed. Recipes such as Caprese salad (tomatoes, basil and buffalo mozzarella) bring out the incredible fresh taste of a good tomato, highlighting its flavor with just the right pairings and never diluting its goodness.

That being said, there is nothing quite so good as a red sauce (red sauce to some, tomato sauce to others and gravy if you're from the east coast), and it works well with so many ingredients.

I break red sauces into two seasonal categories. In the hot summer months when fresh tomatoes are available, I like to make a light tomato sauce, adding only a few vegetables and spices and cooking it no longer than 30 minutes. This is a great topping for bruschetta with a healthy dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano or to toss with shrimp and a thin pasta such as vermicelli.

In the colder winter months I like a thick, long-cooked ragù-style sauce. More often than not, this is a meat sauce and does well with duck breast, meatballs or a mélange of meats such as pork ribs and meatballs, a combination which the Ital

ians call Costine di Maiale e Polpette. A ragù is best served with a thicker pasta such as pappardelle, linguine or fettuccine.

A long time ago on the Mississippi gulf coast, a dish of red sauce and pasta was called shrimp-boat spaghetti because it was easy to prepare and very hearty -- just what hungry fishermen needed. It is just as good today and can be made quickly and inexpensively.

Make a fast tomato sauce with a few herbs and fresh tomatoes or make a more complicated sauce to use with thick-cut pasta or pasta stuffed with ricotta and basil, depending on your time and pocketbook.

FRESH TOMATO SAUCE WITH SHRIMP

12 large peeled shrimp

1 package thin pasta, cooked to package directions

4-6 ripe tomatoes

1 chopped onion

4-6 chopped cloves of garlic

1 cup good-quality red wine

Red pepper flakes

Fresh ground black pepper

Tony Chanceries seasoning as needed

1 small bunch basil

Plenty Parmigiano Reggiano

Olive oil

Unsalted butter

Note: Always start red sauce and pasta by putting the water on to boil. It can simmer away until you are ready to cook the pasta. Pasta does not have to be brought to the table immediately after cooking, you can toss it in a little olive oil so it doesn't stick together and it will hold quite well. Do not discard the water the pasta was cooked in as this starchy water is great to add to your sauce if it is too thick.

Sauté the onions in a little olive oil for 5 minutes or so, add the garlic, season to your taste with red pepper flakes and cook for 3 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and wine and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Season the shrimp aggressively with the Tony's seasoning and cook in a hot sauté pan along with a good lump of butter. Give the shrimp about 30-45 seconds on each side so that they are cooked through and take on a little color but are not overcooked. Add the shrimp to the red sauce, but take a cup of the sauce and deglaze the shrimp pan, adding the results back to the sauce. Add the chopped basil and give it a good stir, taste and season as necessary.

Plate the pasta and add just enough sauce to coat it. It should not be swimming in sauce, but should be a balance of pasta and sauce. Top with Parmigiano Reggiano. Serve with a good Cabernet Sauvignon or an Italian Chianti and a good loaf of crusty bread.

RAGU WITH RIBS AND MEATBALLS

1 package thick pasta such as pappardelle or linguine

1 rack of pork ribs, cut into serving portions

1/2 pound ground pork

1/2 pound ground beef

1 cup panko bread crumbs

Grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1 chopped onion

1 chopped green bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup grated carrot

4-6 cloves chopped garlic

2 cans good-quality crushed tomatoes

1-2 tomato cans water

1-2 cups good-quality dry red wine

Red pepper flakes

Dried oregano

Fresh ground black pepper

1 small bunch cilantro

Olive oil as needed

Combine the ground pork, beef, 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano and panko, season aggressively and mix well. Form into1/4-cup size balls and brown in olive oil over medium heat. When well browned but still raw in the middle set aside.

Season the ribs and brown them in the same pan then set aside.

Season and then sauté all of the vegetables together, leaving out only the garlic, for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes, water and wine, simmer for 5 minutes, then add the ribs and meatballs back in and simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove the meatballs and set aside. Continue to simmer the sauce and ribs for 2 more hours. Give it a stir every once in a while.

Remember to taste and season as you go.

Make the pasta according to package directions, toss in olive oil and set aside. When ready to serve add the meatballs back to the sauce, plate the pasta, top with Parmigiano Reggiano and cilantro and serve.

Serve with a good Italian Barbaresco or a Pinot Noir from Oregon. Don't forget the crusty bread.

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