When I was lucky enough to attend the Paulie Gee Christmas party and have dinner with the man himself, I was able to use the skills I learned in my interviewing class to find out how he made his delicious red pasta sauce. (note: this is not the sauce he uses on his pizza.)
“Oh man! This is so good. How do you make this?”
“Are these San Marzano tomatoes?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Paulie, Come on. I need to know what kind of tomatoes these are.”
“It’s a secret.”
“You have to tell me!”
(My interview method is called: The Whiny Interrogation.)
As I rolled my eyes and grumbled and complained, he explained the simple recipe. It was the easiest sauce I’ve ever made, and maybe one of the most delicious in its simplicity.
The key here is vidalia onions, the ones that look squashed. They are so sweet and mild you can eat them raw. (Paulie can’t.)
Sautee one chopped vidalia onion with a few cloves of garlic (Paulie doesn’t use garlic, I did.) in olive oil. (I added red chili flakes, too.) Transfer to a bowl. Over that add a generous amount of fresh basil leaves, which steam from the heat and release a lot of flavor. Then add your tomatoes – I used 2 cans of San Marzano whole tomatoes, which I find to be superior to other canned tomatoes found in the grocery store. I used a food mill to crush them and remove the seeds.
Leave the bowl covered on the counter overnight, and depending on whether you want the onion and basil in there, you can put it all through the food mill again before you make your pasta.
What I love about making this sauce is all the other dishes besides pasta I can make with it.
One of the most simple dishes I make is cauliflower stewed in tomato sauce. In a pot, saute garlic and olive oil and red pepper flakes. Add enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pot, then add pieces of cauliflower. Season with salt and pepper. Add some tomato sauce over the cauliflower and some water to the bottom of the pot. Cover and let it steam for 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender. At the end, add some grated Parmesan cheese. This can be eaten on its own or, if cooked down a lot, can be used atop pasta.
Another great way to use the sauce is to stew greens with beans. I love white beans with escarole and chick peas with spinach. I like to make this even more oniony, so I saute more onions with garlic and, of course, red pepper flakes. Then I add a can of beans. Once those cook down for a few minutes add your green. Season with salt and pepper. This is one of my accidentally vegan dishes. After I cook it, I say, “and it’s vegan, too!” I’m not vegan, but I have friends who are.
The next day I love to poach an egg in tomato sauce. This is so easy. In a small pot, pour in some sauce and let it heat up a bit. Crack an egg in, season the yolk with salt and pepper and cover. Lower the heat and after 5 minutes you have a warm delicious saucy egg that is great topped with cheese and served with Italian bread. You can poke it to see how runny or firm it is.
And if you do happen to use the food mill to remove the tomato seeds and the onions bits, you can use that to top pizza or bruschetta! There are five ways to use the sauce right there!
Il Passatore on Bushwick Ave makes a mean Bolognese. I attempted to recreate it and though quite different, I am happy with the results which were adapted from Emeril Lagasse’s Classic Bolognese Recipe. When trolling for recipes online I choose the simplest, with the most accessible on-hand ingredients or those that can be easily substituted. I had a jug of heavy cream in the fridge so this one was appealing. I’d never heard of cream in meat sauce, but cream in anything is usually good.
Bolognese is a MEAT SAUCE with TOMATOES, not a TOMATO SAUCE with MEAT; different from what I grew up thinking and eye-openingly scarf-worthy.
This sauce is easy but like all good things it takes time. Use the best ingredients you can find. I know it’s more expensive but I love meat from The Meat Hook. It makes me feel less guilty for killing animals because I have the illusion they hang out in jacuzzis before they are slaughtered. The meat doesn’t originate from a horrible factory farm, thus it’s nutritionally and karmically better. I would have liked to use ground veal, because that is really ethical, but it’s special order at The Meat Hook. One thing I also forgot were peas, which are nice little sweet bursts of green. Parsley on top would be the icing on this meaty spaghetti cake.
Like all my cooking, I have no quantity meter. That is whether I am cooking for myself or 100 people, I cook for 100 people.
With the leftover sauce I stuffed these colorful peppers, which make great lunchbox meals.
Almost There Bolognese*
2 Cups Heavy Cream (1 C. reduced to add at end; 1 C. at room temperature to stir in during simmering)
1 Italian Sausage
1 lb chopped chuck (veal, pork, lamb in this mix would be delicious)
1/2 C. chopped pancetta (or bacon)
1 C. chopped carrots
[1 C. chopped celery]
1 chopped onion
1/2 C. red wine [or white]
1-2 Bay leaf
Dash of hot red pepper flakes
2 minced garlic cloves
3 TBSP sun dried tomato paste dissolved in water [or meat stock]
[1/2 C. Peas]
Salt & Pepper
Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano Cheese
In a small heavy sauce pot reduce 1 C. of cream to 1/3. Meanwhile, brown the pancetta, then stir in the carrots, onions, bay leaf and hot red pepper flakes until tender. Salt & Pepper. In a bowl mix the sausage (casing off) and the chopped meat with salt & pepper, then add to the vegetables until brown. Stir in the wine, garlic and diluted tomato paste. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 2 hours, partially covered. Every so often stir in 1 C. of unreduced cream. After a few hours, stir in the reduced cream. Towards the end would also be a good time to stir in some peas. Salt & Pepper. Serve topped with parsley and grated parmesan or romano cheese over spaghetti or your choice of pasta.
Bolognese Stuff Peppers
4-6 Bell Peppers
1-2 C. Bolognese Sauce
1/2 C. Cooked White Rice (add some butter to warm rice)
3 TBSP Parmesan or Pecorino Romano Grated Cheese
1/2 C. Peas
2 Scrambled Eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut off the tops of the peppers and set aside. Cut the bottom of the peppers as needed so they stand on their own. Remove the seeds and boil the peppers in salted water until tender but still firm. Remove and cool. In a separate bowl, combine the bolognese sauce, white rice, cheese, scrambled eggs and peas. Add the rice and sauce gradually to build your stuffing. You don’t want too much rice or too much meat. Stuff the peppers with the mixture and top with more grated cheese. Bake for 20 minutes with the tops on at 350 degrees.
*In brackets are ingredients I didn’t but could have used in this recipe. Most likely I forgot.