This was the subject of an article I saw recently online. The author had gathered a group of recipes and said that, after much research and testing, she had recreated recipes that her mother had used. We all know things that we grew up with, and unless we think to get the secrets before we leave home for the wide, wide world we may not know how to do our own personal home cooking.
I gathered up my mother's personal cooking library, but unfortunately it was after she died suddenly. At least I have the tastes of my childhood, and even from hers. She was Polish by descent, and a few recipes that I have--or in some cases methodologies--enable me even to enjoy what she enjoyed a long time ago, back in the Twenties when she was a little girl.
One recipe that I am bringing in today is the Marinara Sauce, which is a basis for a lot of things, from tomato soup to spaghetti sauce. Add meat or meatballs and you have an Italian classic; use part of it in beef stew and you have another unrivaled comfort food.
In this recipe, instead of canned diced tomatoes, you can use tomatoes that you have preserved, or "put up" yourself. My recipe from Laura Calder of food television is quite simple, and it is in the Index for this column. If you can fill a jar with tomatoes, basil and onions, and place it in a canning pot and boil it for a period of time, you can preserve your own tomatoes. And it's a perfect reason to click around the Food Network web page, for that matter.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you can use an immersion blender--that handy tool--to smooth the marinara sauce out into something that isn't so chunky. This is good either before or after you combine it with other ingredients to make tomato soup. You can also make soups that contain pasta, such as minestrone, or grain soups like the tomato, barley and vegetable soup that is sitting in my fridge right now waiting for dinner later on today.
CLASSIC MARINARA SAUCE
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1/4 cup olive oil suitable for cooking
Two cans (28 ounces each) Italian diced tomatoes, with their juice
Sea salt and freshly-ground pepper
5 large fresh basil leaves, shredded or torn
Place the garlic in the olive oil over medium heat. Let the garlic sweat in the oil for about two minutes and then add the tomatoes carefully. Bring the tomatoes to a simmer and let it sit on a very low boil for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly.
Remove from the heat and stir in the basil. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. At this point use an immersion blender to puree the sauce. Let the sauce cool and then transfer it into airtight storage containers.
If you do not have an immersion blender, leave the sauce on the stove and allow it to cool for at least an hour. When it is no longer a heat hazard, you can place it in batches into a food processor or blender and puree it that way.
Store the sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
I recommend that marinara sauce be kept on hand. It is easy to have some in the freezer for fast dinners, and when you thaw it and prepare whatever you are going to serve, don't forget to add some thickener, such as tomato paste. Frozen tomato sauces tend to separate when they are thawed.