Tuong ot toi (Vietnamese chile-garlic sauce)

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Combine in a food processor :

24 oz cherry bomb or fresno chile peppers, or other medium-hot to hot red chiles, destemmed but not deseeded and cut into quarters, halves or chunks as appropriate

1 head garlic, crushed and peeled

a pinch or two of salt

Pulse until chopped into smaller fragments, stopping to scrape and redistribute if necessary.

Add :

2, 4 or 6 tbs sugar (see note)

1/4 or 1/2 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar (see note)

Process until chile and garlic and finely enough diced. Place in medium to large saucepan over medium heat.

Bring to a simmer and cook at a low simmer until the liquid has mostly evaporated.

Allow to cool, then refrigerate and serve with EVERYTHING.

Note on proportions :

It’s best to play with the proportions of this recipe to suit you or your fellow diners taste. In particular sugar and vinegar should be tweaked : 6 tbs sugar makes something close to what is purchased in asian markets as shelf-stable tuong ot toi, 2 tbs is more like what would be served on the table at a restaurant. The larger amount of vinegar will make it take longer to cook and reduce but easier to process everything initially. And naturally it will make it more sour. I usually use 2 or 4 tbs of sugar and 1/2 cup of vinegar.

Ideally, you should play with all the other proportions as well, and even what kind and color of chiles to use, to suit yourself and your diners, and the dictates of the moment. I often replace 4 oz or so of the red chiles with green chiles, it ruins the impressive red majesty of the original, but it reminds me of when I used to buy it in the Asian market, where there is usually a bit of green since the peppers are pulled in big farms and often still have a hint of green. I used to think it was scallions ūüėź

This is undoubtedly the world’s finest table sauce. There is simply nothing finer in any cuisine that goes so well with so many cuisines and especially with so many simple foods. Raw and cooked vegetables, eggs, noodles, soups, sandwiches (unbelievable on banh mi), salads, tofu, pork, fish, and really pretty much anything is enlivened with a little dab of this. Butter, noodles and a spoonful of this with maybe a little cilantro would probably be my final meal if I had to have one. But I won’t! I will live forever, making millions and millions of batches of tuong ot toi! At least, that’s the plan.

Chanterelle Sauce No. 1

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This is a simple sauce that tastes creamy and luxurious without using heavy cream – highlighting the natural flavor of some of the seasons’ finest wild mushrooms. You can use any kind of chanterelle or craterellus mushroom for this, but the sauce is at its’ best and most pleasing to the eye when a mix of different, colorful mushrooms is used. In the variation pictured above we used black trumpets (Craterellus cornucopioides) and golden chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius).

As always, prepare everything in advance and have handy¬†when making a sauce so you aren’t rushing around chopping shallots or looking for sour cream when the time comes to add it.

Melt / heat in a sautee pan:

2 tbs butter or oil

Add :

1 tbs. whole field garlic bulbils or conventional or field garlic cloves, minced

2-3 oz shallots, finely chopped

A grating of fresh nutmeg

Sautee the onions and garlic until softened, then add:

1/2 lb. of chanterelle or craterellus mushrooms, chopped into similar-sized pieces

NB >>> Different mushrooms will cook at different times, so if using a mix, they should be added one at a time. I usually find that golden chanterelles take the longest and horn of plenty the shortest.

Cook the mushrooms until they are softened but not yet completely tender, and add:

1 tbs. potato starch (corn starch may also be used. Flour can be used but must be well-cooked to avoid leaving an off taste)

Stir and sautee for 1-2 minutes, then add, slowly, mixing to incorporate :

1 1/2 cups hot whole milk, preferably fresh and of very good quality

Cook while slowly adding the milk for fifteen minutes or so. Add seasoning to taste while the sauce reduces a bit. If it becomes to thick and/or is cooking too fast add 1-2 stock cubes or ice cubes and reduce heat if needed. Season with :

Freshly ground black or white pepper to taste (optional)

Salt to taste (not optional)

Fresh or good quality dried thyme to taste

Once the sauce is close to the desired consistency and the mushrooms are mouth-tender, remove the sauce from the heat. If it is very hot, allow to cool a bit before adding :

1/2 cup sour cream, preferably at room temperature

Snipped chives if desired

Taste and adjust for seasoning. Serve immediately.

If not eating immediately, allow the sauce to cool on its’ own without adding the sour cream. When serving, reheat and then stir the sour cream in, with chives if desired.

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Craterellus cornucopioides being prepared

There are of course any number of herbs or other seasonings that could be added to this sauce, but in this its’ simplest form I’ve used only the classic mushroom herb thyme and a bit of nutmeg and optionally pepper. Fresh parsley or celery leaf in small, finely-chopped quantities are a nice addition for a bit more green color. One could add a stronger herb as well such as oregano or tarragon¬†if it seems appropriate for the dish it is to be used with.

The temptation with a sauce this rich is to toss pasta in it, and revel in the sumptuous texture combination of chanterelle and toothsome starch. And I won’t deny that it is a fine sauce to serve with a starch – heavenly with freshly-made egg noodles, homemade biscuits (a nice vegetarian replacement for Southern-style sausage gravy), even simple buttered rice. Some more interesting uses? A¬†cream sauce for greens or a green vegetable, a base sauce for a pizza, on top of heated stuffed vegetables or grape leaves, especially ones filled with rice or grains, on top of a hearty bowl of cooked, mashed lentils or pulses, and a dynamite partner with polenta. I have even eaten this on top of some scrambled eggs with a bit of cheese and green herbs and had no complaints about the experience.

Makes a little over 2 cups of sauce.

Tomato Sauce with Winter Vegetables

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Another extremely simple winter tomato sauce recipe, in which you can use whatever winter vegetables you might have around and canned tomatoes to make a sauce that can be served either thick and chunky or pureed.

The first thing to do is strain the tomatoes, reserving the liquid. You will want to use about 2 cups / 1 L. of tomatoes and juice, or the contents of a 35 oz can. I usually also squeeze or cut open the tomatoes to let the juice inside them out, but this isn’t strictly necessary. Keep the juice and drained tomatoes separate until needed.

Next, prepare your vegetables. I use between 4 and 5 ounces each of three different vegetables. You should shoot for roughly equal amounts of each vegetable. First I use either celery or onion, chopped into medium size dice. Then I peel and cut into medium dice either carrots or parsnips. Lastly I prepare either kohlrabi, turnip, long radish or celery root in pieces of the same size as the other ingredients. If you like garlic in this, add an ounce or so chopped very fine. Remember to keep all your vegetables separated, as they require different cooking times.

Add two to three tablespoons of olive oil to a wide sautée pan, preferably one with deep sides. Bring the oil to heat over medium heat. Add the vegetables one at a time and cook each until softened. The best order is onions or celery to start, then carrot or parsnip, then the last. Cook each vegetable just until softened, about 5-10 minutes for each. Add the garlic last of all, and cook for only a few minutes before proceeding. You may also wish to add bay or bayberry leaf or whole sprigs of thyme or rosemary at this point, taking care to remove them before pureeing or serving the sauce.

Once the garlic has been cooked, add the whole tomatoes to the pan, breaking them into chunks with a flat-ended wooden or plastic spatula. You may chop them prior to adding to the pan, but I always find that such a mess and prefer to simply break them into pieces while they sautée. Cook the tomatoes for at least five minutes, keeping the heat around medium.

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Add the reserved tomato juices to the sautée pan. At this point, you may wish to add stock or water to thin the sauce out. I would only recommend this if it is your intent to puree the sauce. With about 5 oz of each vegetable, this makes a substantial quantity of sauce, enough for more than one pound of pasta. I will often serve the sauce thick with some pasta, then puree whatever is leftover with added stock to make a sauce that I can put on eggs or a half-pound of spaghetti. One could also add chiles or cream or another ingredient to this newly-pureed sauce for the sake of variety.

Whether you add tomato juice with stock or water or nothing else, the liquids must be cooked down slightly. I usually leave the pan at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. Less can be fine, but the flavor will not be as rich. In any event, make sure before serving that all the vegetables are cooked through and as tender as you would like them. Finally, add salt, freshly ground black pepper, and dried or fresh herbs to taste. With a winter sauce like this I will often add a quick crumble of marjoram or oregano or sage, depending on what herbs I’ve added during the cooking stage.

Serve as-is or puree and serve over pasta, with or without cheese.

Tomato Sauce with Onion (with apologies to Marcella Hazan)

IMG_8556This is one of the easiest and tastiest tomato sauces you can make. It can be made with fresh tomatoes, but I usually make it in the winter months using high-quality canned tomatoes. This recipe is entirely based on long and slowly evolving use of Marcella Hazan’s “Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion” (see notes at end of recipe).

Gather your tomatoes. If you use fresh tomatoes, use about 2 lbs of a sauce-type tomato and remove the peels by whatever fashion you normally would. If you use canned tomatoes, use 2 cups or so (a regular large 35 oz can) and strain the fruits from the juice. Squeeze or cut each of the tomatoes and push out the juice inside them as well.

ALTERNATIVELY, whether you go fresh or canned, you can pass the tomatoes through the food mill before cooking. I find that the flavor is superior if the fruits are cooked a bit seperately, and while still mostly whole. It can always be pureed later.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, place a small knob of butter (2 tbs or perhaps a bit more) and a splash of olive oil (1-2 tbs). You can put a bit less or a bit more, but if you don’t use at least 3 tbs or so the sauce won’t be as rich. You may of course replace the butter with a substitute or simply use more oil. I have prepared this recipe just with oil. It is good, but not quite the same. A butter substitute appropriate to your diet would be a better replacement to create the proper creaminess.

Add a half an onion or a small whole onion sliced in half. Add as in the picture above, in one large piece, not chopped or sliced. Add a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

You may also wish to add other things at this point, such as a few whole cloves of garlic or bay leaves other whole herbs or celery leaves or chiles sliced in half. Whatever you add, keep it in a large enough chunk to remove with ease. The idea is to bring the flavors out through slow cooking and permeate the sauce with them.

Immediately add the whole, drained tomatoes (whether fresh or canned, separate the juice). Sautée the whole tomatoes along with the butter, oil, onion and additional flavorings, slowly crushing the tomatoes them with a heavy wooden spoon or spatula, breaking them up and stirring while the mixture comes to heat. Cook the tomatoes and the aromatics together for five minutes or longer.

Add the reserved juice from the tomatoes. If you are using pre-prepared tomatoes, simply omit the sautée step.

Bring the saucepan to a slow simmer, bubbling occasionally. Think a classic Sunday Sauce, only on a much smaller (and quicker) scale. The longer you cook this and the lower the heat, the more flavorful it will be. It benefits from sitting overnight as well, but I can never resist it when freshly made. I usually find it takes about 45 minutes to an hour of simmering before the oil rises to the top and the juices have boiled down to a nice thick sauce. This is not a marinara-type consistency but a thick, chunky tomato sauce. It should be rich and creamy and look almost like a vodka sauce.

If the sauce is to be pureed, it can be served with thin spaghetti and the like, but I prefer to keep it somewhat chunky and put it on a thicker cut of box pasta, like the rigatoni below. It is also excellent (a la Hazan) with potato gnocchi, and many stuffed pastas with ingredients such as squash, pumpkins, mushrooms, nuts and bitter greens. You may add cheese or choose not too‚ÄďI usually find that the sauce is rich enough and enjoy instead a sprinkle of oregano or marjoram. Likewise, I find that served with cheese stuffed pasta the cheese should be sharp and pungent rather than mellow like ricotta or mozarella, or the result will be bland. It’s also excellent served with stuffed vegetables or as a sauce to zest up a simple vegetable dish or bowl of lentils.

This is an extremely basic slow food recipe, but one that I hope you will find useful as well as endlessly variable.

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Further Recipe Credit / History :

This recipe‚Ķ or procedure, perhaps‚Äďisn’t so much adapted as completely stolen from Marcella Hazan. It appeared first in¬†The Classic Italian Cookbook¬†(1976) where it was appealingly titled “Tomato Sauce III.” By the time her first two books were rebound as¬†Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, it had become “Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter.”

I had to look all this up not only to make clear my thievery, but because while I have been making this sauce since the late 90’s I don’t ever really actually look at the recipe.¬†Once I had¬†looked at them both I realized that I’d been making it unlike Marcella for many years. She must have made that same realization when she selected recipes for Essentials, the latter version being much lighter on butter and omitting sugar (!) entirely. Her version is made with fresh tomatoes, too, while for an unknown reason at some point long ago I began to make this sauce¬†exclusively in the cooler months and good canned tomatoes.

If there is a cookbook writer to be recommended any more highly than Marcella Hazan, I can’t think of one. Even if you aren’t particularly drawn to Italian food, her description of cooking technique is unsurpassed. Always explained in the same authoritative, thorough and patient tone. Almost everything I make is an experiment, I rarely prepare the same exact dish twice. Many of my (hah!) canonical dishes are ruthlessly tweaked from Marcella’s master tapes.