Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Roasted Marinara

When people talk about quintessentially American foods, they usually think about meatloaf or some canned-soup casserole or maybe a gluttonous Thanksgiving table with a giant carcass in the middle. Not my kind of America! The great USA is a melting pot, and some cultures have been here so long their traditions have become embedded in our consciousness. For us, the most American of all meals is pasta with red sauce, a green salad and some garlic bread. The fact that this also happens to be vegan is bonus points! Sometimes living in Northern California really feels like being in Italy, and growing up here, where tomatoes grow to be eight-feet tall, passion for pasta sauce run deep.

The bottom layer, before adding tomatoes
Tomatoes, pre-roast
With the first waves of summer tomatoes becoming available, we have a long season to reap the benefits of the tomato harvest ahead of us. Fill a bag with the best-looking tomatoes you can find. The better the tomato, the better this homemade marinara will be. I don't even bother to peel the tomatoes, or saute any aromatics or anything. Just layer all the ingredients in a skillet or baking dish, throw it in the oven and let it roast until soft and caramelized. The depth of flavor is really impressive, it tastes like you spent hours over a steaming pot, but nobody has to know it's actually really easy to put vegetables in the oven. The carrots probably seem random, but they add a lovely sweetness that nicely balances the acidity of the tomatoes. Ashley has been known to add a pinch of sugar to her famous tomato sauce, and with the roasted-carrot sweetness, you can leave the sugar in dessert.

Roasted Marinara, before pureeing
If you want a thick tomato sauce for pizza or just to blob on bread, this recipe is perfect, as the roasting concentrates the vegetables' natural juices. For pasta sauce, thin it out with water as needed. In any case, use the best tasting extra virgin olive oil you have, because you won't be cooking away the rich olive flavor, just adding a few glugs at the end. This can be a wheat feast to suit those of us on a gluten-full diet, but with the incredible alternative pastas available today, it doesn't need to be. Brown rice pasta or quinoa pasta, both widely available these days, are so delicious and take the gluten guilt out of eating noodles. So, invite over your friends, make a huge batch of pasta, roast some marinara, toss a simple green salad and bust out some red wine. America has never tasted so good.
The roasted vegetables before processing 
And a minute later, the finished sauce!

Roasted Marinara
Play around with combinations of fresh and dried herbs. Tomato loves herb!
1 onion, sliced
6 cloves garlic, pounded with the flat part of a knife
2-3 carrots, sliced
about 8 roma tomatoes, quartered (or more of any tomato you love)
salt, extra virgin olive oil
dried herbs (I chose dried sage, fennel seeds and red chile flakes)
fresh herbs (I chose Italian Parsley)
red wine (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat cast iron skillet or baking dish with oil. Spread onion, garlic and carrot along bottom of baking vessel. You can chop these roughly, any way you want. The roasting will transform everything. Sprinkle with salt. Place tomatoes, including all juices, in pan and sprinkle any dried herbs on top. Roast in oven for about an hour, depending on desired roastiness and thickness.  While still hot, add optional wine and let it bubble and sit for several minutes until no longer steaming hot. Transfer all roasted vegetables into blender or food processor and pulse to desired texture. Add a few generous glugs of extra virgin olive oil and any fresh herbs. Pulse to incorporate oil and herbs, adding any water as necessary. Salt to taste. Serve with pasta or use as pizza sauce. Delicioso!

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