Monthly Archives: October 2011

Butter, onion, tomato sauce

My general approach to tomato sauce is simple: I wing it.

After years of watching my parents throw basic ingredients into a pot and letting it simmer for an hour or two to create a hearty and rich tomato sauce, and even more years of making it from scratch on my own – owing to a perhaps unnatural love of pasta – I don’t give too much thought to cooking up a decent red sauce.

I’m a big believer in the long-simmered sauce with a multitude of ingredients that all come together over a slow heat, melding and marrying into something that is so much greater as a whole than the sum of its parts.

But I can also turn around a very basic sauce in 15 minutes.

At the very least, my spaghetti sauce usually has garlic and diced onions, sauted in olive oil with a generous pinch of salt, canned plum tomatoes I roughly (and gently, using a butter knife) chop in my hand over the pot, fresh basil if I can get my hands on it, a little sprinkle of sugar if the whole mix is too acidic, and a Parmesan heel, which I stash in my freezer for just such occasions.

So, it takes an unusual tomato sauce recipe to catch my eye.

Like this one. It has three ingredients. (OK, four, if you count salt, which, in general, I don’t, since almost all recipes call for salt.)

Canned tomatoes. A yellow onion. Butter.

That’s it.

Butter, onion, tomato II

Marcella Hazan’s recipe for tomato sauce with butter and onion has made appearances over the years on various food blogs I follow.

Each time I saw it, I thought I really should remember to give that a try.

And then I’d forget about it until someone else posted their love of this simple yet rich dish.

This seemed like a great weeknight dinner recipe since there is minimal fuss. No chopping or dicing, sweating or sauteing.

You dump it all into the pot, let it come to a simmer, reduce the heat, and go about things. In this case, a little laundry, some tidying and things that allowed for a quick wander past the pot to give the tomatoes a stir and squish against the side with a wooden spoon.

At the end of 45 minutes, all it needed was a small pinch of salt and to be dolloped over a nest of noodles.

Some have suggested sprinkling on Parmesan, but I opted not to. The sauce is rich and tasty without adornment, which is sort of the beauty of it.

The butter adds an almost unidentifiable creaminess and mellows out the acidity of the tomatoes.

And, luckily, such an easy recipe is simple enough that in the future I can pretty much wing it.

Butter, onion, tomato

Cooked sauce

Spaghetti and Sauce I

Spaghetti and sauce II

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

This was adapted from Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by way of several food blogs. Since there are only three ingredients, I do recommend using San Marzano or San Marzano-style canned tomatoes, which are packed in tomato puree instead of water and have, therefore, a greater tomato flavour. You can find Marzano-style tomatoes in most grocery stores these days.

  • 1 28-oz (796-mL) can of whole tomatoes
  • 5 tbsp (75 mL) butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
  • 1 lb (500 g) spaghetti
  • salt to taste, if needed

Put the tomatoes, butter and onion in a pot over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, stir to combine, then reduce the heat to low or medium low – depending on how hot your element is; you’re looking for a slow but steady simmer – and cook for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, squishing the tomatoes against the side of the pot.

Cook pasta according to package instructions.

Remove sauce from heat, discard the onion and taste. Add salt if needed. Serve over cooked pasta.

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and meal ideas, head to the Calgary Herald’s food page.

Bourbon Pecan Pie Brownies

The first time I had pecan pie was when I was 16 and visiting a friend in England for a month during summer holidays. There were visits to Stonehenge and London, trips on the train to Bath, but a lot of the time was spent hanging out in Bristol with her boyfriend and his friend, with whom I struck up a short summer romance.

It was not to last, but part of our brief courtship included an invitation to dinner at his family’s house. Details have likely been repressed due to all that teenage awkwardness, but one thing is clear in my mind: his mom made pecan pie.

It was delicious.

Since then I’ve been drawn to variations on the pecan pie. (Not, to be clear, in any way related to yearning for the boy who ended things in a long-distance call just a few weeks after I returned to Canada, but because I like the idea of this pie, the rich pecans and sweet goo filling.)

(And, as an aside, you can read a bit more about my short-lived summer romance in another pecan pie-related post here.)

But I can rarely get excited about making pastry.

And then I came across a recipe for Bourbon Pecan Pie Brownies.

Stacked and side view

Where a crust would be, instead a fudgy, chewy brownie and a pecan pie topping kicked up with some bourbon.

Seemed to me like two very fine things coming together to make an even finer thing.

I found it on a blog, but the recipe originated (and had been adapted from) an NBC Sunday Night Football Cookbook, the idea of which totally charms me.

I used to use the same brownie recipe every time I felt like a chocolate fix, until I found a recipe for Rocky Road Brownies, which used no leavening. The resulting brownies were dense and fudgy and a revelation.

They are, unsurprisingly, rich — two sweet desserts combined into one. And the bourbon retains some of heady kick, so be warned.

The original recipe says it makes 16 bars; I’d suggest cutting smaller.

After all, you can always eat two.

Cocoa, butter and sugar

Scraped Clean

Chopped pecans

Top layer batter

Top layer on

Solo brownie

Stack of brownies

Bourbon Pecan Pie Brownies

The original recipe calls for the two layers to bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes to set the pecan pie layer. Don’t be afraid to go longer; mine were in for 45 minutes before the centre had set.

For the brownies:

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) flour
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) cocoa powder
  • 1 ¼ cup (300 mL) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) butter
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs

Preheat oven to 325F (160C). In a small bowl, beat together eggs and vanilla, then set aside. In a double boiler set over boiling water, combine butter, cocoa, sugar and salt. Mix as the butter melts until everything is combined. Remove from heat and whisk in egg and vanilla mixture.

Add flour and stir until combined. Pour into 8 by 8-inch (20 by 20 cm) baking dish. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely.

For the pecan pie layer:

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) corn syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) bourbon
  • 2 cups (500 mL) chopped pecans

Beat together corn syrup and sugar until smooth. Add eggs, vanilla and cinnamon, and beat. Add butter and bourbon and beat again until thoroughly combined. Stir in pecans and pour the mixture over the brownie layer. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.

Let cool completely, then refrigerate for at least two hours before serving.

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more food-related articles and recipes, check out the Herald’s food page.