Saturday, December 24, 2011

One size fits all

While researching this article, I encountered Aldo's, a tiny Italian restaurant in Brooklyn (Ohio, that is). Spurred by a long history of rave reviews, the Goat, Lil' OB and I had dinner there.

Placing a forkful of Aldo's lasagna deluged in their homemade marinara upon my tongue was a life-changing experience.

There were the sauces that came before this moment and there is this sauce. Let there be light.

Thus began my intrepid search for an authentic marinara recipe. I have not replicated Aldo's yet, although I've not yet tried in earnest. But I did find this with the embedded recipe, "Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter."

Hmmm ... adjectives? Try intense and lush and simple and sublime. The beauty of this recipe is that anyone can make it. To that end, spreading it around the world is like slipping diamond rings on the fingers of every peasant girl and silken robes around her work-weary beau's shoulders. When you twirl your angel hair in a puddle of this sauce and place it ever so reverently in your mouth, you will inflate with breath and turn your eyes skyward.

Why can't everything in life be like this?

You will need:

-Two cups whole, peeled, canned plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juices (about one 28-oz. can, preferably Italian and without citric acid)

-Five tablespoons unsalted butter

-One medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in half

-Salt to taste

Combine the first three ingredients in a medium saucepan. Add a shake or two of salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Adjusting heat as necessary, cook uncovered for about 45 minutes at a very slow steady simmer until droplets of fat float free from the tomato. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and salt as needed.
That's it.

The recipe says to discard the onion. But therein is another bit of magic. Of course you don't discard the onion! You pluck it from the pot, cursing as you burn your fingers and, as it drips with this rich tomatoey buttery sauce, you eat that onion right out of hand over the sink. Who says there's no such thing as heaven on earth?

So there's your xmas gift, admittedly regifted from Molly Wizenberg who regifted it from Marcella Hazan, but I have a feeling the spirit of an old Italian cook, full up with love, is smiling somewhere out there in the ether and thinking, that's exactly right, girls, keep passing it along.

Merry merry and happy happy.



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alphadog said...

If you are telling me that I can make this sauce and enjoy it without adding any garlic or red to it, I will trust you that it is so. But I gotta say, it sure goes against my instincts.

Big Mark 243 said...

I would tell Alpha that the scalded fingers drip love into the pot which replaces the garlic!!

I love reading about the Brooklyn's in Cleveland. Though I never got the chance to go through them (or if I did, I had no idea that I was), reading your article makes me want to come and experience lasagna at Aldo's... I like lasagna as much as Garfield and I think that Jon would be the kind of guy who lived in a place like Cleveland..!

Happy Holidays... you and your ol' G.O.A.T!


Erin O'Brien said...

Alph, your garlicy spicy sauce is your garlicy spicy sauce. This sauce is this sauce. Take a leap of faith.

Mark, I LOVE to hear my writing lures someone to CLE, if only in their heart. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I always leave here hungry. Where's a guy gonna find Italian food in a small town in Tennessee at 8 in the morning? (and hell no I ain't banging no pots and pans this time a day.) Guess I'll just be layin' in plenty deli type fixins for the 13 GAME NFL ORGY made possible by NFL SUNDAY TICKET. You think Seneca Wallace can generate any offense for the Browns?


Anonymous said...

Throw out the ONIONS!!! Damn Commies.

James Old Guy

rraine said...

i feel like i gain 5 pounds every time i read your stuff. and i'm loving this recipe, 'cause i'm allergic to garlic! boy, is that a drag.
all the best to you and yours, eob. thank you for making the world a better place.

Anonymous said...

-Thanks for another post praising my neighborhood.
-For those of you CLDOOM (Cleveland Denizens Of the Wonwers Manual) who haven't made the hajj to Aldo's, you owe it to your tastebuds, your joie de vie and your sense of wonder to go.
-The scallopini is the best I've had ANYWHERE...including Little Italy, the one in New York.
-The stuffed banana pepper appetizer is sublime. After sopping up every bit of the sauce with a piece of their unbelievable succulent sauce the plate goes back to the kitchen looking brand new.

Here's the kind of place Aldo's is: When you drive by on a slow night you feel guilty you're not in there throwing Aldo a little business. how many places do you feel that kind of love and loyalty to?
Good post, Erin

Tidings of great joy to you ALL.


Anonymous said...

Bread...the SAUCE is succulent, the BREAD is unbelievably fresh...sorry for the confusion...

B.E. Earl said...

I found that same exact recipe (from a different, altough she mentions that it was posted on Orangette earlier) about a year ago, and I've been making it about once a week ever since.

I don't know what it is about it, but it reminds me of something from my youth. So rich, simple and delicious. I use a 35oz can of peeled Italian tomatoes, because more sauce equals more better. And I also eat up some of the cooked onion instead of discarding it.

Yum yum eat 'em up!

Erin O'Brien said...

RJ: You said "orgy!"

James: That onion is as pure and sublime as anything you can imagine. Bite your tongue!

rraine: I couldn't do a thing without all of you.

MR: Charles Michener touted Aldo's on Memphis Road in the April 2011 edition of Smithsonian Magazine:

"It’s a dead ringer for Rao’s, New York’s most celebrated hole-in-the-wall, only here you don’t have to know someone to get a table, and the homemade lasagna is better."

Talk about extreme CLE love ...

B.E: Another who has seen the light. Thanks for the endorsement. You really have to taste this sauce to believe it.

Erin O'Brien said...

And for the record, peeps, right now I'm wrangling this for our Christmas feast tomorrow. WOW!

Anonymous said...

Erin, I would never ever consider such a sin, onions are a gift from the gods!!! People who throw away onions are beyond saving.
James Old Guy

Erin O'Brien said...


That's a relief, James. Glad to see you're on our side.

Anonymous said...

And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled {taxed}/(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria)/And all went to be enrolled, each one unto his own city/And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem(for Joseph was of the house and lineage of David)/To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child/And so it was that while they were there the days were accomplished that she should be delivered/And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them at the inn./And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night/And lo, the angel of the LORD came upon them, and the glory of the LORD shone about them, and they were sore afraid/And the angel said unto them, Fear Not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which is to be to all people/For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord/And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger
Luke 2

Al The Retired Army Guy said...

One of the hallmarks of Italian cooking is that they take the very best ingredients they can find, in season, and treat them simply. I recently ran across a method for red sauce that is not too different than Erin's, but there is a bit of a difference. It doesn't use canned tomatoes, but fresh, and makes copious use of garlic, basil, and olive oil.

What one does is take several pounds of tomatoes (I like Romas myself), and blanch them in boiling water to remove the skins. They are then seeded (I suppose you don't have to seed them, but I find it makes a finer sauce), and the pulp from the seeding process is run through a fine sieve or China Cap lined with damp cheesecloth to strain out all liquid. The tomatoes and tomato juice are then placed into a pot with some olive oil, and cooked down for about 20 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, one takes some garlic (how much is dependent on individual taste - I generally use about 10-15), and fresh basil (again, this depends on individual taste - I use probably about oh, a cup, sometimes more), and "steeps" them in about 12 oz of extra virgin olive oil for about 20 minutes, as the tomatoes are cooking down.

The basil and garlic is strained from the olive oil, and the olive oil is set aside for the moment. The tomatoes are mashed with a potato masher (I suppose one could use an immersion blender, Robot Coupe or blender for this, but I like the coarser texture from the potato masher), and then the olive oil is then combined with the tomatoes. Adjust seasonings. At this point, you can shock the sauce down and store it for later use or freeze it.

At service, take about 5-6 oz of the sauce and place in a saute pan. Heat the sauce, and toss with about 6 oz or so of pasta (I like it straight up with spaghetti) that has been cooked just under al dente (it will finish cooking in the sauce). Mount at the end with some butter, perhaps a tablespoon or so, and toss again until the butter is melted and the sauce has thickened a bit and coats the pasta. Serve.

This has become my go to red sauce recipe.

Next time I'm in Cleveland, I'm going to Aldo's.


Erin O'Brien said...

Anon: Amen.

"Mount at the end with some butter"

Al, that is some beautiful turn of phrase. Love the recipe, but MAN, that's alotta cookin'. Also, I had to look up China cap and Robot Coupe.

Erin O'Brien said...

Just found a pic of Bill the commenter's xmas tree. Merry xmas, Bill the commenter.

Bill said...

I know it's Christmas and all but, the talk of butter, mounting, etc. Just made me think of this scene from The Last Tango in Paris. Probably shouldn't watch while the little ones are opening their presents. butter and mounting

Al The Retired Army Guy said...

@ Erin: Mounting with butter is the literal translation of a cooking term from teh French, monte au beurre. In the professional kitchen you'll often hear "don't forget to monte" when finishing a dish. Robot Coupe - from the same people who brought you the Cuisinart in the 70s. China cap - a type of strainer so-named due to it's shape.

It's acutally not a lot of cooking. You're really not doing a whole lot (other than taking the skins off/seeds out of the tomatoes). You should try it sometime - great recipe if you ask me.


twinkly sparkles said...

I have taken to making and LOVING a roasted tomato sauce. I won't say more now. No peeling, seeding, coring needed. Love my primitive food mill.

But that all yields something quite different than the what you describe here, Erin.

wv: fooloita: plural of coitus for fools

I know, it makes no sense. Is that part of the point? I hope so.

B.E. Earl said...

I've got another simple sauce/pasta dish I make every now and again. It's got four ingredients. Five if you count the pasta.

Heat up 5-6 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil in a large saucepan. Add 3-4 garlic cloves that you've smashed up a bit. You want them to remain semi-intact, because you are going to remove the garlic with a slotted spoon after a few minutes of saute time. Add 1-1.5 lbs of quartered cherry tomatoes and cook down for about 5 minutes. Add a whole bunch of fresh basil, and saute for another 2 minutes. Then add a pound of cooked spaghetti that's not quite al dente and cook for another minute or so.

That's it. Olive oil, garlic, cherry tomatoes and basil. Season with a little sea salt, but that's really it. So simple, yet so delicious. The key is fresh ingredients all around.

This dish is served at an Italian joint in NYC that I have eaten at a few times. They were kind enough to post the (very simple) recipe on their website. Which, alas, is not working right now. But it's called San Pietro Ristorante.

Erin O'Brien said...

Bill, okay I admit it: that was the first thing I thought of myself.

Al: you should see me peeling the tomatoes. I use the method you recommend and always end up burning my fingers. ouch!

Twinks, wish I had a good vintage food mill. I bought a cheap one once and it ended up in the garbage.

B. E.--that sounds really good.

Al The Retired Army Guy said...

Erin - use a paring knife to peel the tomatoes with. You can always hold them with a towel as you peel them, but it would be candyass.


Craig Hughes said...

Erin, I ran across this article a while back and it taught me some things about the elasticity of certain base sauces. Just as an FYI. And your's will be tried forthwith. ,

DogsDontPurr said...

Alan and I finally got around to making this last night.

First, let me say, that Alan oversees a few small restaurant/bars, and has turned around their kitchens with his pasta and pizza sauce recipes. His sauces are amazing, and everybody goes crazy when he introduces his latest recipe. He knows his way around food.(Now, I don't mean to say he is a sauce snob...but...)

So when I told him about this sauce, he was incredulous. It could never work. But, I convinced him to try it anyway.

OMG...I thought he was going to have an orgasm on the spot! He declared that this was going to be his "go to" sauce from now on. And I totally agree.

How can something so simple be so good? Because it is. That's the magic and beauty of it.

Thank you so much for sharing this!

Erin O'Brien said...

AHA! Someone else has seen the light.

I think this would make the most incredible gourmet pizza sauce. I've yet to try it, but will soon.