Saturday, November 5, 2011

Put some sauce on that mama

As I was stuffing for 19 jars of apple butter into my refrigerator on Sunday, I started taking stock of the countless other condiments that have been accumulating in there. Someone call me if the Food Network ever picks up a pantry-based spinoff of Hoarders. "Have you used this bergamot marmalade in the past six months? Maybe it's time to let go. Just... let go."

Somehow, in the general commotion, a 16-ounce mason jar full of Jeff's canned tomatoes got shuffled to the front of the top shelf. I wasn't quite sure how long the tomatoes had been chilling out, but I figured that the natural acidity kept them pretty safe, and that making a nice spicy cooked tomato sauce would offset any funky flavors they had soaked up. Wow, this meal already sounds so appetizing! Let me try a different approach: hey, it would be a shame to waste any of the lovely organic San Marzanos that Jeff and Erica spent 8 hours preserving, right? Seasonal. Local. Home canning.

I knew that eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce was a North African dish of some sort, but after getting home from choir at 9 PM on Monday I was honestly too tired to look up its actual name or what spices you're supposed to use in the tomato sauce. As I coincidentally learned on Serious Eats two days later, it's a Moroccan dish called shakshuka that is primarily spiced with ras el hanout, which according to Wikipedia translates to every spice that exists in Morocco mixed together.

So, hey, maybe I didn't do too badly with by guessing turmeric, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, and hot pepper. The turmeric picked up the natural sourness of the tomatoes, the hot pepper gave it a nice spicy kick, and the other spices rounded out the sauce took it in a totally different, warming direction. Definitely something to make again--not just as a medium for poaching eggs, but also spooned over pasta or fish, mixed into a dark green, or as the base of a soup. The possibilities are as endless as the spice combinations. That is, approximately 102!/97! -- which is a pretty big number.

Sorry I didn't get a better picture, but my camera was almost out of battery. I had to post this recipe, though, because it's something I will no doubt try again, and I kind of started using my food blog as a recipe book. What if Blogger goes under?

Spiced Tomato Sauce

3-4 tbsp butter
half a medium onion, cut into thin strips
2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
two small hot peppers, cut into thin strips (optional)
16 oz canned tomatoes

First, to brown the butter--Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. It should melt quickly and then start to foam. As soon as the foaming subsides, start watching it carefully. When the tiny solid bits in the butter start to turn brown and the butter takes on the smell of toasted nuts, immediately turn off the heat and stir to distribute the solids evenly throughout the butter. Let the saucepan sit off the heat for 2 minutes to cool down; if you add the onions and continue cooking at this point, it's easy to burn the butter.

Add the sliced onions to the brown butter and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, then add the red pepper, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, and allspice, along with a few generous pinches of salt. Cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are completely soft and sweet. Taste an onion and adjust the balance of spices if necessary--the spicing should be very assertive. Add the hot peppers, if using, and cook for about two more minutes, just enough to cook out the rawness. If not using fresh hot peppers, you can add an extra teaspoon of crushed red pepper.

Add the tomatoes to the onion-spice mixture and bring to a simmer (just bubbling) over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 - 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have lost their canned taste and absorbed the spicy flavors of the onions. Add a little extra salt if necessary. The finished sauce should be sweet, tangy, and hot with a long, spicy backbone.

For dinner on Monday, I poured the sauce into a shallow baking dish, made two little holes in it, cracked eggs into the two holes, and baked at 400 F for maybe 10 minutes, until the whites had set but the yolks were still liquid. I served this on a bed of couscous, kale, and radicchio cooked in bacon fat. Excellent!


Recipe roundup...

I make couscous by toasting some couscous in a tablespoon or two of olive oil over medium heat, then adding an equal volume of water, bringing it to a boil, taking it off the heat, and letting it soak up the water. Then fluff. The olive oil gives it a nice sweetness that you don't get from just boiling it.

For the greens, I crisped a chopped-up slice of bacon over medium heat, then removed the bacon and cooked a bunch of kale and half a head of radicchio in the rendered fat, also over medium heat, until they were just tender. A bit of sherry vinegar, and add the bacon back in. Nice.

1 comment:

  1. I'm expecting a post on apple butter soon. Or, at the very least, something with apple butter in it!