@judyschickens Marinara Sauce

I have two ways of preparing marinara sauce, the summer way and the winter way. Either way, marinara sauce is super easy to make and so much better than store bought sauce.

In the summer, I use fresh tomatoes. I often use the over-ripe and cracked tomatoes for cooking and save the pretty ones for salads.

In the winter, I use Italian, canned, whole, plum tomatoes.

There is also a “hybrid” version of sauce that I make at The Nashville Food Project. There, I use a combination of fresh and canned tomatoes — a mixture that includes canned tomatoes that are often dented (they’re okay to use) and homegrown tomatoes (some perfect, some cracked), all of which are either donated or grown in TNFP’s production gardens. I happily get to make that version in a tilt-top stove which can hold enough sauce for 300 servings!

I use the same ingredients in all three versions: tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, basil, sea salt, and ground cayenne or red pepper flakes. What I don’t use is dried oregano. I’m not sure why people think oregano should go in Italian tomato sauce, but no one in my family ever used it. All versions simmer for ten minutes on medium heat once they have come to a rolling boil. Marinara sauces do not cook for as long as a thick and meaty “Sunday Sauce.” They are meant to show off the beautiful flavor of tomatoes.

Although I’ve been making marinara sauce for most of my life, it wasn’t until the summer of 2006, when our family was on an overnight sailing trip in the Adriatic Sea with friends, that I learned to make a delicious marinara. Our skipper, Toto, prepared lunch for ten on a two-burner cooktop in the small galley kitchen of his boat. What did he do differently? He did not add onions (I used to), he used a pinch of cayenne pepper (for heat), and he only cooked the sauce for ten minutes (I was cooking it for 30-45 minutes). In other words, he kept it very simple.

And I’m not the only one who loved the sauce. To this day, if you ask my boys, they will tell you it was the best spafhetti and marinara sauce they ever had.

Yield: Makes 4-5 cups

Ingredients:
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
6-8 cloves of smashed and chopped garlic (about ¼ cup, chopped)
4 pounds of ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, and rough-chopped (about 8-9 cups) or 2 28-ounce cans of whole Italian plum tomatoes
2 teaspoons sea salt
A pinch of cayenne pepper OR ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
15 large leaves of basil, rough-chopped OR 2 loaded stems (about ½ cup when chopped)
1-2 teaspoons sugar (optional, it cuts the acidity)

Instructions:
Core the stems of the tomatoes, slice tomatoes in half (horizontally), and use your index finger to scoop out the seeds. Rough-chop tomatoes into 1 to 2-inch chunks. I do not peel the tomatoes. If using canned tomatoes, pour them into a bowl and break them up with your fingers. Swizzle each empty can with a ½ cup of water and pour the liquid into the bowl. Set aside.

Smash the garlic to break up the bulb. Remove the tissuey peel. Take the flat side of a chef’s knife and press it down over each clove to flatten and make it easier to remove the last layer of peel, then rough-chop the garlic cloves.

Pour olive oil into a 6-quart sauté pan. Add garlic. Sauté for about one minute on medium heat until the garlic starts to change color. Do not brown the garlic. If you do, discard and start over. It will make your sauce bitter.

Add the tomatoes, salt, and cayenne or pepper flakes to the garlic and oil. Bring to a boil and then simmer on medium heat for about ten minutes. Stir in sugar. Remove from heat.

Stir in basil. Let flavors meld together for at least 15 minutes. If desired, purée the sauce. Personally, I like a chunkier texture.

Serve over cooked bucatini and sprinkle with Reggiano Parmesan.

Recipes from Judy’s Chickens that use this Marinara Sauce recipe

Roasted Eggplant, Mozzarella, and Ziti  Amazingly delicious! My family loves it.

Fresh Marinara Sauce with Pasta and Mozzarella Yummy for a quick evening dinner. You could add cooked chicken for protein if desired.

Spiralized Zucchini with Fresh Marinara Sauce I’ve taught this recipe to a few different groups and each time half the people present ordered spiralizers before they left the room.

Check out other family-favorite Italian pasta dishes here.

Never buy a bottle of salad dressing again! Keep a bottle of this 4-ingredient vinaigrette in the cupboard. Use it for salads and marinades: @judyschickens Everyday Salad Dressing

One of the most popular recipes on the blog developed by me after our trip to Croatia: “Croatian Cheese” a Flavorful and Exotic Appetizer Made with Feta and Goat Cheese

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

A New Take on Chicken Marbella

For many new brides in the Eighties, like me, recipes from The Silver Palate Cookbook were among the most exotic we had ever prepared.

Chicken Marbella, a lovely chicken entrée that marinated all day long with oregano, bay leaves, capers, olives, and prunes was one of the most memorable and exotic of all. It could feed a crowd, be made ahead of time, be served hot, warm, or cold, and looked beautiful arranged on a platter, all of which made it an excellent dish for get-together meals.

With all this high praise, it may seem blasphemous to write that I have tweaked the recipe. Times have changed in thirty-five years. People are more keen on decreasing their sugar intake, so I’ve omitted the cupful of brown sugar. There are more options for buying various cuts of chicken now, bones in or out, so I buy chicken thighs instead of quartering fryers. There’s less time for food prep and shortcuts are often championed, so I marinate the meat for four hours instead of twenty-four. This marinade is so savory, I braise the chicken in it in a Dutch oven, instead of roasting the meat in a shallow baking pan. Yes, I’ve messed with the recipe, but hopefully, I’ve simplified the process so families might start enjoying this amazing dinner entrée more often instead of saving it for company.

Yield: 8-10 chicken thighs

The Marinade

In this recipe, the marinade ingredients are the stars. In fact, once lined up for a photo I had the urge to say, Ingredients, take a bow as if they were part of an orchestra. And thank you to cookbook authors, Julee Rosso and Shelia Lukins, who were revolutionary when it came to bringing unusual flavors together.

Ingredients
I head of garlic, cloves smashed, peeled and then chopped
6-7 fragrant bay leaves (buy new ones if they don’t smell woodsy)
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup dried oregano (¾ cup, if using fresh)
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup capers, drained (3½ ounces)
1¼ cups dried prunes  (7-8 ounces). Could add apricots or dates, instead.
½ cup green olives, drained (about 3½ ounces)
1 cup white wine (omit for Whole 30)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
4-5 pounds chicken thighs, bone-in or boneless, visible fat removed

Prepping Garlic Cloves
An easy way to prep garlic cloves is to put them in a bag, smash them with a meat mallet, and remove the skins. Rough chop afterward.

 

Instructions
Add all of the ingredients into the pot in which you will be cooking the chicken. I use a Dutch oven such as Les Creuset.

Add chicken, stir until all of the chicken pieces are well-coated with marinade. Cover and put in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours to marinate. The chicken can marinate for up to 30 hours. Toss ingredients occasionally. About an hour before you plan to cook, take the pot out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350º.

Cook for 45 minutes for boneless chicken or an hour for bone-in. About halfway through the cooking time, open the oven and stir the chicken. Remove pot from oven and let rest until time to serve.

I was all set to post my recipe with the modifications when … my husband said the only thing that could make this recipe better would be to use boneless thighs. Arghh! Seasoned cooks know how much flavor bones bring to a broth. I didn’t know if I could go that far in changing the recipe. I was reticent but curious, so I made two versions for dinner one night; one with boneless thighs and one with bone-in.  I invited family over for dinner and had them try both versions.

The verdict was tied until early the next morning when I received this vote from my friend, Corabel Shofner who was already on the road for a book tour of her fabulous YA (young adult) novel, Almost Paradise.

Bone-in won!

P.S. It was fun to tell the Millennials at the dinner table how popular the Silver Palate store in NYC was in the Seventies and Eighties as well as how popular the cookbooks were for my generation.

P.P.S. This is a fabulous novel for kids and adults. Lots of life lessons from the ever quick and witty, Corabel Shofner.

Related Posts: Other Fabulous Dinner Entrées
Yummy Shepherd’s Pie
Judy’s Mom’s Meatloaf
Easy Roasted Salmon with Olive Oil and Garlic Pepper
Brooks’s Pork Tenderloin with the Most Amazing Marinade
Pot Roast with Herbs and Root Vegetables
Rachelle’s Italian Sausage, Onions, and Peppers

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Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Pot Roast with Herbs and Root Vegetables

I’ve been on a pot roast making jag for the last two months.

When my children were young I made pot roast regularly — the very quick way. I put a chuck roast in a Crock-Pot, sprinkled it with onion soup mix, added water, potatoes, and carrots and let it cook all day. It was good enough, but apparently not memorable. I know this because once my children moved out, I forgot all about pot roasts.

In January, I visited the newly opened Bare Bones Butcher in The Nations in Nashville. I told Wesley Adams, one of the owners, that I wanted meat for a pot roast. He gave me a list of cuts that would work, and we settled on the classic chuck roast, cut from the shoulder of a cow. The meat at Bare Bones comes from locally raised livestock who graze on grasses (“pasture-fed”) until a few months before slaughter when grains are added to their diet to bulk them up (“grain-finished”).

When I got home, I realized how much I didn’t know about cuts of meat. I found this video online that was produced by Bon Appétit. It helped me feel better informed.

I brought the meat home, browsed through my cookbooks, came up with a cooking plan, and made my first pot roast in perhaps five years, sans onion soup mix. It was delicious!

 

To write a reproducible and tasty recipe, I had to make a lot more pot roasts. I bought subsequent chuck roasts at a nearby Kroger. I asked the butcher to show me a nice looking chuck roast, and he picked this one.

Meats used for pot roasts are generally more fibrous than other cuts and need to cook slowly, with low heat, and in a moist environment, to break down the connective tissue between the muscles. Cooked in this way, the meat comes out well done, has beautiful flavor, and fall-apart tenderness.

Take a look at these vintage charts to see the meat cuts of a cow.

Yield: Serves 6

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
6-8 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large onion (12 ounces, about 2½ cups), rough chopped
4 pound chuck roast
salt and McCormick garlic pepper
1 cup dry red wine (omit for Whole30)
2 cups beef broth
5-8 stems thyme
3-5 stems rosemary
4-5 fragrant bay leaves
2½-pounds total of carrots, turnips, and gold potatoes
Add more salt to taste, if needed.

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 300º.

Wash the root vegetables. Peel the onion and roughly chop it. Take the garlic cloves, smash them with a meat mallet, and remove the skins.

Add olive oil to a heavy-bottomed, oven-proof pot. Warm the oil and add the onion and garlic. Sauté mixture for 10 minutes on medium heat until translucent and lightly browned. Add herbs, stir and sauté for one more minute. Use a slotted spoon to remove the onions, garlic, and herbs to a small bowl. Set aside.

While the onion is cooking, prep the meat. Rub approximately one teaspoon each of salt and garlic pepper on each side of the roast. If desired, tie the meat using four feet of cotton string. Set aside while you finish cooking the onion mixture.

Once you have removed the onion mixture from the pot, turn the heat up on the burner, put the exhaust fan on, and add the roast to the oil-coated pot. Brown the roast quickly on all sides for a total of about two minutes. Please note: in some of these pictures I tied the roast and in others I didn’t. Tying makes it easier to turn the roast over and to remove it from the pot.

Remove the roast from the pot, add wine, and deglaze the pan using a wooden spoon to dislodge the small pieces of meat and onion that may remain.

Add the beef broth and heat until liquids are hot. Add back the onion and herb mixture and the meat to the pot. Do not boil the meat in the broth. Cover the pot and cook in the oven for 2 hours.

Isn’t this beautiful?!

Meanwhile, prep the root vegetables.

If the vegetables are fresh, I wash and scrub them, without peeling. If the skin is thick, I peel them. Cut veggies into two-inch dice. The addition of unpeeled turnips bumps up the flavor. Set veggies aside.

When the roast has cooked for 2 hours, remove it from the oven. Turn it over (easier to do when it is tied) and add the root vegetables. Poke the vegetables into the liquid. Set timer for 1 hour.

After the roast has cooked for a total of 3 hours remove the pot from the oven. Taste the broth to see if it needs more salt. Let rest until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, remove meat to a cutting board. This next step is optional, but one I always do now that I’ve tried it: pour juice from the pot into a fat-separator and set aside while you trim and slice the roast.

I often trim and remove the visible chunks of fat before slicing.

Remove the herb stems from the vegetables in the pot.

Arrange the vegetables around the meat on the platter. Pour some of the defatted juice over the meat. Put the extra juice in a gravy bowl and serve on the side. The broth is good enough to sip!

Serve with a salad and cornbread, to sop up the lovely broth.

Other Good Options for Dinner:
Yummy Shepherd’s Pie
Judy’s Mom’s Meatloaf
Rachelle’s Italian Sausage, Onions, and Peppers 
Chicken Cacciatore or Hunter’s Chicken
Brooks’s Pork Tenderloin with the Most Amazing Marinade
Lemony Grilled Chicken Breast

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Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Baked Ziti with Roasted Eggplant, Mozzarella, and Marinara Sauce

Last night, my son and grandson joined my husband and me for dinner. I made baked ziti with eggplant.

The nicest compliment came when my son said this newest rendition of baked ziti was among the top five meals I had ever made. He said he wished it was served in a restaurant so he could get more whenever he wanted. (No need for that, honey; just say when.) It was all music to my ears. I had been working on a recipe for baked ziti and eggplant for years.

I love roasted eggplant. I was taught by my mother to sweat (salt and drain) eggplant before cooking to rid it of its bitterness. Indeed, for most of my adult life, I equated the brown liquid that dripped from the colander during sweating as the color of bitterness. The more brown liquid in the sink, the more successful I thought I would be in making a delicious eggplant dish. But recently I learned the true reason for sweating had nothing to do with bitterness and everything to do with the anatomy of eggplant. Eggplant is porous; it is full of small air pockets that absorb oil like a sponge. Sweating draws out water from the eggplant’s cells which fill the air pockets so cooking oil can’t’ occupy the air space.

Since I no longer fry eggplant, this summer I eliminated this time-consuming step of sweating and instead lightly brushed each raw slice of eggplant with olive oil before roasting.

The results have been delightful. At a recent dinner party, guests started gobbling down unadorned roasted eggplant slices before I got a chance to smother them with marinara sauce and mozzarella.

Recently, I went to the Richland Farmers Market in Nashville and bought these gorgeous, svelte, Italian eggplant (melanzana, in Italian) from Corner Spring Farm. They had delightful names like Violeta di Toscano, Rosa Blanca, Clara, and Beatrice.

When I got home, I added them to the hefty stash of Black Beauty and Japanese eggplants I had harvested from my garden. I decided to make a day of it and cook all the eggplants at once. When I trimmed and peeled the skin, I was surprised to see the contrast in color of my stash of eggplants and the Italian varieties. Their flesh was so much whiter. Once roasted, I noticed the Italian eggplants were denser and maintained their shape better. Plus, they had the mouth-feel of artichoke hearts. Yum. Now I know why my mother would always choose Italian eggplants when we visited farmers markets; there is a difference. Next summer, I’m planning on growing more of the Italian varieties.

Yield: serves 8-10 as a main course

Ingredients 

The ingredients list is divided into each of the cooking steps:  eggplant, marinara sauce, pasta, and basil and cheese layers.

3 medium to large eggplants, about 4 pounds
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
2 28-ounce cans whole Italian plum tomatoes
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or dash of cayenne pepper
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons granulated sugar (optional)

6 quarts water
1 tablespoon fine salt
1 pound penne ziti rigate pasta, cooked to al dente

1 pound sliced and then chopped, mozzarella
1 cup finely grated parmesan ( about 3 ounces)
1 cup basil leaves, about ¾ ounce

Mise en Place

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425º

Remove the stem, and peel and slice the eggplant. Slice them about one-half inch thick; better to err on the side of thicker than thinner slices.
 

Pour olive oil in a bowl and brush each side of each slice very lightly with oil. I only used 3 tablespoons of oil for all the eggplants pictured above.
IMG_2499

Arrange the eggplant slices on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Roast for 30-40 minutes. If you want them browned on each side, turn them over after about 20 minutes. I do not bother with this extra step. They should only be lightly browned when done. If you can’t decide if they are cooked enough, try tasting one. That’s what I do. You want them to be firm enough to hold their shape.

At this point, you could store the slices for one or two days in the refrigerator, or freeze. To prep for this recipe, measure out one pound (about 3 cups) and chop into 1.5 to 2 inch segments. Set aside.

DSC_5175.jpg

While eggplant is roasting, start the marinara sauce. Heat olive oil in a 6-quart frying pan over low heat. Add garlic and sauté for about 2 minutes. Do not allow garlic to brown. Pour the tomatoes into the pan breaking them up with your fingertips as you do. Add salt, cayenne, and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat stirring frequently. Turn heat down to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the fresh basil and turn the heat off. Set aside.

While the sauce simmers and the eggplant roasts, start a large pot of salted water over high heat for the ziti. When water comes to a full boil, add the ziti, bring it back to a full boil, stirring frequently, and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta. The pasta will cook more as it bakes.

Now you are ready to layer all the ingredients into a 9 by 13-inch casserole.

Preheat oven to 400º.

Pour two cupfuls of sauce into the bottom of casserole pan.
Add half of pasta, half of eggplant, half of basil, half of mozzarella and one-third of parmesan,

Repeat layering starting with half of the remaining sauce, the rest of the pasta, basil, and mozzarella, and a third of the parmesan. End with the remaining sauce followed by the last of the grated parmesan.

Bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack of the oven.

Related Italian Dishes:
Tomato Pie for a Crowd
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
@judyschickens Marinara Sauce
Peperonata!
Spiralized Zucchini (aka Zoodles) with Marinara Sauce
Roasted Tomatoes, Burrata, and Basil
Roasted Ratatouille
Pasta, Mozzarella and Marinara Sauce
Tomatoes: The Crown Jewels of the Summer Kitchen Garden
My Favorite Gazpacho

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.