Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - I love Italian food. Always have. And I'm not even Italian. Once upon a time my family name was Dzupina.
As a little kid attending the awful Sacred Heart School in New Jersey, I was the newbie, the 64th student in Miss Angelilli's second grade class – as if she needed more stress. Boy, could she yell! So my survival skills kicked in. I sucked up, told her I wished I was Italian. The real reason was that spaghetti was my favorite food. Have you ever met a kid – or a dog – who doesn't love it?
Fast forward to the kitchen today. Italian-born Marcella Hazan, author of multiple Italian cookbooks, is regarded by chefs and food writers alike as the doyenne of Italian cuisine. Here is the recipe that put her on the map, a ridiculously easy and delicious salsa di Pomodoro, a tomato sauce made with 3 ingredients. It's vegetarian, too!
If you have a hankering for a good, fresh pasta with red sauce – or if you have unexpected company – you can have this on the table in one hour flat. You will even have time to drink some wine with your guests because this no-fuss sauce cooks itself. Just put your pasta water on the stove when the sauce has 15 or 20 minutes to go.
Here's everything you need for Marcella's delicious, authentic salsa di Pomodoro for pasta. It's quick and super easy to make.
Marcella Hazan's 3 Ingredient Red Sauce
• 28 oz can of tomatoes or about 2 cups, preferably San Marzano tomatoes
• 5 tablespoons butter (about 2/3 stick or ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon) - If using a 500 gram cylinder of President French butter, 5 tablespoons is about 71 grams of butter (1 tbsp butter = 14.18 grams)
• 1 peeled onion, cut in half
Add tomatoes to a pot on medium-high heat. Add butter and stir as it melts, incorporating it into the tomatoes. You may wish to break up the tomatoes by pressing a wooden spoon against the side of the pan. Add halved onion.
When sauce starts to bubble, reduce heat and gently simmer UNCOVERED for 45 minutes. The water in the tomatoes will evaporate, intensifying the flavor. After about 25 or 30 minutes, start to heat a pot of water for pasta. Or use an electric kettle to heat the pasta water, if you want to speed things up.
When you drain the pasta, be sure to save a little water, in case you need to add some liquid to the sauce.
Tomato Sauce – Andrea's Spicy Twist on Marcella Hazan's Recipe
I follow Marcela Hazan's tomato sauce recipe (28 oz can of tomatoes – about 2 cups – preferably tomatoes imported from Italy; 5 tbsp butter, which is 71 grams, and 1 onion cut in half). Note: if cooking with a 500 gram cylinder of President French butter, use the lines indicating every 10 grams.
Add the following:
• About 5 or 6 whole cloves of garlic, peeled, pressed with the blade of a knife
• 1 cinnamon stick (or one very tiny shake of cinnamon – you do not want to be able to taste the cinnamon or overpower the sauce)
• 1 piece of star anise
• Fennel seeds, about ½-1 teaspoon
• Anise seed, about ½ teaspoon
• Red pepper flakes, to taste
• Black pepper, to taste
• Fresh basil – lots! ¼ cup, ½ cup, how much is too much? How much do you love basil? You can add basil flowers, too. Taste them. They're sweet. You can even use Thai basil. It is sweeter, less bitter, and more "anisey" than Genovese basil.
• A Bay leaf.
P.S. OMG! I nearly forgot... a good splash of red wine!
Gently simmer 45 minutes uncovered. Remove onion and garlic & discard.
Quality Ingredients are a Must
My mother's aunt Rosamonde was fabulously talented in the kitchen – and a gracious, elegant Manhattan hostess. She and her husband Sasha, an impresario and a Russian aristocrat – a gentleman from St. Petersburg, rather than a gentleman from Moscow – often entertained his clients, some of the greatest musical artists of the 20th century. She used to say, "Darling, you cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear." Without a doubt, the quality of your ingredients is everything.
The Italians are very proud of their tomatoes, especially the ones from San Marzano, which are grown on rich volcanic soil. They are a bit spendy. They're worth it. Sometimes I actually mule them down from the States because I've never found them here. However, Cirio brand tomatoes are Italian imports and they're available in Puerto Vallarta. They're good.
Next there's the butter. Use an import because most Mexican butter is adulterated, with oil and sometimes other stuff. It tastes like margarine to me. Gah. Good brands of butter are President (France), Kerrygold (Ireland), Lurpak (Denmark) and Kirkland (USA). It breaks my heart that I cannot get that wonderful Anchor butter from New Zealand anymore. I don't know why they stopped selling it (unless I want to buy 6 kilos at a time).
Speaking of butter, on June 4, 2020, in a story headlined "Consumer agency identifies butter that shouldn't be labelled as such," Mexico News Daily wrote that Profeco was investigating numerous companies that were fraudulently selling products that were supposedly butter. Some are made from a blend of oil and cream. Three brands use 100% oil! Gag me. No wonder they taste like margarine. Read the label. Butter is made with 100% cream and maybe salt. That's it.
Then there's the pasta, and of course this includes a good fresh or frozen ravioli. One of my faves is Pasta Prima's frozen Espinaca Queso Mozzarella ravioli. As for dried pasta, I have one ironclad rule – only pasta made in Italy, always. Read the label, even if it means putting readers on.
DeCecco is my favorite spaghetti. Of course, it's more expensive. Why am I not surprised?
If you shop carefully, sometimes you can find Italian pasta for about half the price. Of course, this means reading the label. Agnesi and La Molisana pastas are "Prodotto in Italia." However, be ultra careful with Barilla pasta, whose package says "Marca No. 1 in Italia."
Maybe it's Italy's leading brand, but that doesn't mean what's sold here is made in Italy. Their labeling is definitely misleading. I'll bet you a good bottle of wine that all the Barilla pasta sold in Italy is made in Italy.
Here in Puerto Vallarta, depending on the shape of the pasta, it is made in the USA, Italy, or Mexico. That bugs me enough to want to boycott their products, especially when there are so many other good, real Italian pastas available here. Barilla's bargain-priced pasta is hecho en Mexico.
And Mexican pasta turns from a nice, firm al dente into mush in about 20 seconds. So if you pause a minute getting the pasta off the stove, you're screwed. I like pasta from Italy because it tastes better and stays firm. The minerals in the water and the soil are different there, and this makes a different – better – semolina and pasta.
The cheese. When I have a really good red sauce, I don't even use cheese. For me, that is a test of how good the sauce is. Of course, most everybody puts cheese on their pasta, so for goodness sake, spend the money on good stuff, like a hunk of genuine hard Italian cheese – Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano or whatever. You only need to buy it once in a while anyway. After several weeks or months, if it starts to sprout mold spots, it is safe to cut the mold off hard cheese (but not soft).
Remember, it's basically mold that turns milk in to cheese anyway, so don't freak out. So I trim the spots and wrap the cheese well so other food won't pick up its flavor, and freeze it. Now, if you go to chef school, they will say don't freeze cheese.
With hard Italian cheese, freezing affects the texture and makes it crumbly. That actually makes it easier to grate. So sometimes the rebel in my heart says, go ahead. Freeze it. I'd rather do that than throw it out.
Speaking of freezing, if you have leftovers, this sauce freezes beautifully. Just put an individual portion into a zip lock bag and you're good to go.
If you have extra and plan to eat it again in the next day or two, refrigerate any cooked pasta separately – no sauce. BTW I hate to taint food by calling it "leftovers." I like to think of it as something delicious that's convenient and ready to eat.
Anyway, my favorite way of reheating pasta is to boil some water, throw in the pasta for about 30-60 seconds, just until the water starts to boil. You only want to heat the pasta, not cook it more. Drain it immediately. It will taste as fresh as the first time you made it. Then add some heated sauce. Voila.
Copyright © 2020 by Andrea Jupina. All rights reserved.
Andrea Jupina lives in Puerto Vallarta full time. Previously she wrote the "Accidentally Delicious" column for the Vallarta Tribune. Great thanks to Patsy Meyer for her inspired idea for the name "Pan Cooking." Send questions or comments to andreajupina(at)gmail.com.