Make Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce If You Want To Be Happy
Yesterday, I was feeling a little melancholy, but in one of those ways where I needed real theatrics to make it all better. I'm talking cozy sweatshirt, blanket wrapped around me like it's foil and I'm an overstuffed burrito, and a warm bowl of something to stroke both my melancholy and the part of my brain that thinks I need coddling.
I had heard about Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce from lots of people, but I had never made it because in the kitchen, I'm one of those people who is bound to lose Chopped or Top Chef when I make everything too complicated. So many ingredients. So many tools. Isn't that how you're supposed to cook? The simplicity of Hazan's sauce was a draw, not an appeal. What can I say? I always like making things complicated.
This is the opposite of complicated. This is the opposite of taking two subway trains to a restaurant, or navigating a relationship you're unsure of, or following the plot to Lost. This is women-in-chocolate-bar-commercials level simplicity. This is sitting on the porch with a glass of lemonade simplicity. I am not used to it. Marcella's sauce is practically a 4-minute romantic comedy: they meet-cute at a charcuterie bar, they're both single, and then they get married. That's it. The sauce:: you get a 28-oz can of whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano. You peel an onion that is the size of a softball and you cut it in half. You take 5 tablespoons of butter and add all of it to a pot. You let it simmer for 45 minutes. You salt, and then you eat. You eat. Wow. You really eat.
There's no chopping with this. No real knife skills. No extra dishes. It's like a damn hello fresh ad, except it's you and your cooking skills and your life. It's a cooking experience you can leave alone, save for a few stirs here and there. I sat on the couch half the time. For someone who likes to make things difficult, especially sauce and also friendships and money managing and taxes, I thought---no way could this be that good. Still, I was curious. Probably because of the butter. I went to the store and got the fancy Kerrygold kind that I never have any reason to use, because I prefer olive oil and I never got around to making that butter coffee. I bought a 3.99 can of the real San Marzano stuff. I squished it with my hands. The only detour from the recipe? I added about a half a can of water to the pot, to get my 3.99's worth of tomatoes, of course.
And I relaxed. While I relaxed, I salted some eggplant slices, and placed them under my cast-iron skillet to get rid of some of the liquid. I rinsed them off. I dried them. I brushed them in a soy-sauce-paprika-garlic powder-olive oil mixture, and let them cook in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, turning once. They were good.
But who cares about the eggplant? This is the sauce, people. This is the sauce I've kind of dreamed about--more decadent than vodka sauce with less of a stomachache. Simple and understated, like nothing I will ever be or certainly ever wear. This is the sauce that you get in New Haven on pizza. This is the sauce you get at the back of red sauce joints in Bensonhurt, the kind that leaves your spoon oily and your lipstick on your napkin. It's velvety and sweet, the way you've heard tomatoes taste but go, "that seems like food writing and not honesty." It doesn't have basil or garlic, and it doesn't really need it. It's thick and feels richer than you deserve, it's simple, it's not complicated, it's perfect. I ate a normal amount and felt too full.
It's exactly what I needed, yesterday. A reminder of the few simple things in life, when life is never simple and you are not in a Dove commerical. A reminder that your kitchen doesn't have to be filthy to make a delicious meal. A reminder that your house can smell good. A reminder that melancholy can lead to delicious, buttery, silky pasta.
A reminder that sometimes, you just need to sit and eat.