Recipe: Homemade Italian Red Gravy

“…basic cooking skills are a virtue, that the ability to feed yourself and a few others with proficiency should be taught to every young man and woman as a fundamental skill, should become as vital to growing up as learning to wipe one’s own ass, cross the street by oneself, or be trusted with money.” — Anthony Bourdain, Medium Raw.

I couldn’t agree more with the above quote, and this recipe will add to your culinary foundation. Making your own red gravy (Italian for pasta sauce) with fresh vegetables is so simple and extremely satisfying. Trust me, it’s exponentially better tasting, and better for you, than whatever mass produced crap in a jar with a rustic “Italian” inspired label. Yes, even the $10 stuff in fancier jar is still crap. Sorry folks.

All you need is a heating element (stove top, a fire pit, or something that produces heat), a relatively decent size pot, a blender (or a team of samuri warriors), and access to fresh produce and herbs (this is 2012 and based on my web traffic 99.3% of you are in America…you can get fresh produce folks), and this recipe of course, and you’re all set. Move over Mario Batali, I’m building an army of sauce makers.

Here’s what you need:

– Fresh produce (20 roma tomatoes, one large onion, and one large green bell pepper. I also added one large eggplant for some heft and because my NC garden had a bounty of delicious produce that needed to be consumed, this is optional)
– Red wine (2 cups, or the leftovers of the bottle you opened last week will work just fine)
– Vegetable stock (1.5 cups – add more for a runnier sauce, less for a thicker sauce)
– Tomato paste (1 6oz can, I prefer Cento)
– Olive Oil
– Italian Herb Mix (fresh basil, dried Italian oregano, dried red pepper flakes, garlic powder, onion powder, cracked black pepper, fresh thyme, and fresh Italian flat leaf parsley)

Now that you have procured your short and easy list of ingredients, here’s what you do:

-Roughly chop all of the vegetables into the same size chunks. They don’t have to be pretty (they’re getting blended in the end) but they should be about the same size for even cooking.

– In a large sauce pot over medium heat, add 3 table spoons of olive oil, let heat, then add your onion (and eggplant if you choose to use it). Cook until fork tender.

– Next add the rest of your vegetables, the red wine, your Italian Herb Mix (season to taste, I add about 5-6 tablespoons), and your vegetable stock. Bring to a simmer.

– Stir in the tomato paste until completely dissolved, allow mixture to return to a simmer for 5 minutes, then reduce to low heat. Cover and let it cook on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

– Remove from the heat and allow to come to room temperature.

– Carefully spoon mixture into blender and puree until desired thickness.

– Add to your favorite pasta, pizza, or fill a bath tub with it and jump in with a baguette paddle…it’s that good.

Now, there are a few things to note. I realize using canned tomato paste isn’t exactly keeping everything homemade and fresh. Have you ever tried to make homemade tomato paste? Give it whirl, let me know how that turns out.

Also, the sauce will be a bit chunky due to the eggplant, should you choose to use it. It also might be a bit rustic as I leave the skins of the tomatoes and eggplant on – it’s were all the nutrients and vitamin awesometown are. You’ll want to make sure to taste during the entire process as everyone’s preference and tolerance for seasoning amounts differ.

Most important, this is cheaper, healthier, better tasting, and just plain cooler than buying store bought crap. This will yield enough sauce for about 6 adults and depending on what seasonings you have at home, access to a farmers market, or a garden even, this will likely set you back around $10. “Gourmet” pasta sauce ranges from $8-15 on average and you’ll need at least 2 cans for 6 people.

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