Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Reflecting on the winter's golden hour, and tomato gravy

This is more or less what it looked like in our back yard this past weekend. (Michelle, I am sending small, quasi-rural energy to your Big City Writer life.) The light was a little different since this photo was taken in the fall and we are now approaching spring light. It's a small but very important difference; the photo you see is at the angle the sun takes as it seems to withdraw itself from the earth. A photo taken at this time of year would show the hope of spring: we would take it fully an hour later, and the light's angle would be different but beautifully, reliably the same year after year. So does our little sapphire planet gleam in the light of our glorious sun, and so do our humble lives spin along.

Since I was looking for comfort food last week, I thought I would again share the familial "tomato gravy" recipe. I think I've given it to you before, but it fits with my lingering winter mood, and last week's sniffling quest for comforting food requiring virtually no effort.

Tomato gravy is my family's reference to something I think Italian cooks have a glamorous name for, but in simple southern cooking comes down to this. In your cast iron skillet, slowly cook some finely diced bacon (or, if you're fancy and can get it, pancetta). This should be cooked to a delicious crispness, as allowed by your particular batch. The vegetarian version of this recipe just skips over this step, and uses olive oil to cook the onion. If your bacon or pancetta or ham or whatever you have is cooked (or you're taking the vegetarian path) remove the bacon from the skillet. Dice a lovely onion, like a big fat red one, and cook it slowly in the bacon fat (or olive oil). You can add finely diced garlic, if you like. When the onion has softened and begun to brown, deglaze the pan with a touch of wine or broth. Add a large can of whole tomatoes. The key to this is - how you say in your language? - smushing the tomatoes in your fingers, removing any possibly bitter bits, and allowing the juice and all to reduce down slowly. Add the bacon to the tomato sauce. This whole reduction of the tomatoes shouldn't take more than 20 minutes or so.

Meanwhile (I think I say that in every recipe; what kind of recipe writer am I??) cook some pasta you like, preferably a durable one like ziti or penne, about a pound of it, and leave it in the colander until you're ready to combine. When the tomato gravy has the consistency you want (and if you don't know, don't worry: it will take care of itself) toss the two together in a nice big pot. Garnish with a little fresh basil or rosemary or whatever you have on your windowsill. If you got not a thing on the windowsill, toss a little dried parsley on top and watch it come back to life, or shave a little fresh Parmesan or Gruyere on top.

You can't make any mistakes here, and there's comfort and good taste. Of course you can add spinach or greens or anything else you like. I wish I could make it for you. Enjoy, my loves.


  1. Tomato gravy is one of the only things containing meat that I miss as a vegetarian. I was raised vegetarian and would only have it on special occasions at my grandma's house (halupki and stuffed peppers). Then I started eating meat when I was pregnant/nursing to stave off anemia. I craved tomato gravy every day! haha.

  2. Erin, how fascinating that you grew up in a vegetatian household...though I have several good friends who are vegetarians (some of my best friends are...:))with one or two exceptions they chose that path as adults. I must have had you in mind when I wrote the vegetarian version into my recipe!
    P.S. Did you see my post featuring Ultra Cute Crochet with the cute old bald guy photos?
    Love, love,


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