Monday, April 1, 2013

Everything is better with butter. Even tomato sauce. Even fiction.

Dear Boo,

So I'm probably like the 200 millionth person to try, and subsequently extol the virtues of this revelatory recipe, but that's not going to stop me from writing you about it. It's that good. And yes, butter has a lot to do with it, but equal parts of the goodness comes from the simplicity, the near magic that occurs when four simple ingredients come together in a way that is just SO right it makes you sigh, wipe your plate clean, and sigh again.

As you know, I've been part of this amazing little fiction writing group for well over a year now, a group which came together somewhat spontaneously, serendipitously, leap of faith-like, when four (now five) ingredients people came together to try out a (for many of us) new medium. What's come out of this is so much more than any of us anticipated, an artistic home, a motor which keeps us moving forward, a buoy that keeps us bobbing to the surface when we would have otherwise been sunk long ago. And what's come out of each of us, has been surprising and exciting, little pieces of ourselves, down on paper, images and ideas and people who come to life each week as we gather and read and listen. It's really phenomenal.

Of course, since I'm involved (along with a few other serious foodies), there's been a lot of eating as well as writing. Somewhere early on we transitioned from the rotating host providing snacks, to a full-on dinner at each meeting, of which I am--natch--a big fan. I swear my writing has improved tremendously since we implemented this. Of course, as the lovely J-Bow pointed out in a meeting recently after reading a section of my novel, "there's a whole food theme going on in this book..." So maybe it's seeped into my work a bit as well.

(Exhibit A, from one of my chapters:

If it weren’t for the platter of cold cuts on the kitchen table, little rolls of salami and ham and turkey and yellow and white cheese tucked into concentric circles ringed with wet, wilted lettuce leaves, you would never know anyone had died. That platter’s always a dead give-away. It’s the same platter we had on that same table when Uncle Jeff died in that swimming accident. And it showed up about three other times I can remember—one for each of my mother’s sisters. The only thing that ever changes is the lettuce. Sometimes it’s curly (Judith), sometimes it’s shredded (Suzanne), and sometimes it’s those huge flat green leaves that unroll to the size of a ceiling fan (Anita). Today the table is pushed out from the wall, I guess so people can get to the food from all sides, which would make sense if we were expecting a crowd, which means that whoever set this thing up, didn’t know my mother very well.) 

Anyway, for me, too often providing dinner for the group involves calling up Rocco's for a Grandma Pizza and salad (so delicious, highly recommend) as I rush from work to home to printing out my pages and neatening up before the group arrives. But the other day, I just wasn't up for this. I wanted something cheap, and something from my kitchen. And my options were somewhat limited, as I had about 45 minutes to shop and prep and do the dishes. That's when I thought of this sauce. Shopping for it takes about 10 minutes, costs less than ordering a pizza, and the whole thing can be ready in 45 minutes with only about 10 minutes of hands on time. Toss together some greens with good olive oil and vinegar and you have an absolutely lick your plate delicious meal. Also, the sauce magically tastes like its been cooking for hours, so you get a ton of credit.

Here's my deep thought of the day: to my mind, some of the best fiction--or I should say, writing in general, or for that matter, art in general!--comes when few, simple ingredients: a painfully honest line, a character who comes to life with one stroke describing the way their jacket falls over their shoulders, a truth that is rendered so simply and precisely we cannot help but see the deepest parts of ourselves reflected back; collide at just the right speed and velocity and time and space to create something utterly beautiful. Not to put too fine a point on this sauce, because, let's be honest, it's tomato sauce, but this, like so many good recipes, does the same thing. Make it, and have a delicious, cheap, and comforting dinner that might just make you a better artist as well. Hey, I'll take inspiration wherever I can find it.


The Mouse

Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion 


8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed
1 (28-oz.) can whole, peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed by hand
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved lengthwise
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Bring butter, sugar, tomatoes, and onion, to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until flavors meld and sauce is slightly reduced, about 45 minutes. Discard onion, and season sauce with salt and pepper before serving.
**One time I made this, I left half the onion in and pureed it with some of the sauce. I also put in a clove of garlic, whole, to simmer along with the sauce. Both of these options were lovely, though not completely necessary. It'll be delicious either way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I cannot tell you how many times I've made this sauce -'s simple and so very delicious. Glad it was a success - all of her recipes are perfectamundo!
Love, the Aunty.