spaghetti sauce and Italian seasoning
Another one of those family hand-me-down recipes (like the hot dog casserole I wrote about earlier this year) is my dad's spaghetti sauce recipe. He's been tweaking it for decades, and it's reached a level of flavor that far surpasses any of the marinara sauces you get in a jar, and a level of richness that, in my opinion, far surpasses the simple-and-elegant fresh tomato sauces you make in August and September with garden-ripe tomatoes. Instead, it's one of those 1960s-style recipes where you dump about eight cans of stuff into a big pot and simmer it for two or three hours. Nothing fresh except onions and garlic. At least, that's where its origins lie. Over the years, the amount of garlic has increased, some wine has been added, and the parmesan is now freshly grated instead of from a green plastic box. But still: four types of canned tomato products, a jar of mushrooms, and only dried herbs and spices. Here's the recipe. And here's what it looks like spooned over some al dente rigatoni:
One small change I made yesterday, when I made this spaghetti for R. and me, was to use homemade spice mixtures. The recipe calls for seasoned salt (Lowry's is usual), seasoned pepper, and Italian seasoning. I used seasoned salt I'd made before, just used fresh ground black pepper (a step up from the pre-ground stuff the recipe originally called for), and made my own Italian seasoning. The latter was new, and definitely worth doing.
McCormick brand Italian seasoning has the following ingredients: marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano, and basil. But as with any herb or spice mixture, who knows if the ratios are good for a particular dish, and who knows how long that bottle has been sitting on the shelf (not to mention in the back of your spice rack). It's better to buy small amounts of high-quality dried herbs and spices, to make your own mixtures, and replace them relatively frequently when their potency starts to lapse. For my homemade Italian seasoning, I turned to Google, and found several suggestions. One used just four ingredients, while another used five herbs, garlic and onion powders, and black and chile peppers. I ended up making a variation of that second recipe, as follows:
- 2 t dr. basil
- 2 t dr. marjoram
- 2 t dr. oregano
- 1 t dr. sage
- 1/2 t dr. thyme
- 1/2 t dr. rosemary
- pinch black peppercorns
- pinch crushed red pepper
Makes about 2 T.
This mixture worked very well in the sauce, and the chile added a pleasant kick. In fact, the mixture may have worked a little too well, as it was considerably more intense than the usual blend! In the future, I may use rather less of this homemade version in the pasta sauce... Oh, and I used the same Italian seasoning to make a good, simple salad dressing, with minced shallot, white wine vinegar, and olive oil.
It's also worth noting that this pasta sauce is also very good as the sauce to make for eggplant or veal parmesan, and it's very good with meatballs as well. (Does anyone have a favorite meatball recipe? I've been looking for a good one...)