Cozy Food: Pasta Sauce with Mushrooms and Squash

I’ve been feeling cozy. To increase the feeling, I keep my overhead light low and turn on two auxiliary lamps (one bedside, one tabletop). I light a candle. My current candle is fig, but pine is next on the schedule. I also bundle in large, homely clothes to increase my personal warmth. We do have a functional furnace, but my roommates prefer much lower temperatures than I do.

Yesterday, I bought the loveliest sweater that, when worn, morphs into the most hideous sweater. It is wool, Scottish, and vaguely Fair Isle. It’s also two sizes too big. I guess I’m the uglifying factor?

No matter: warmth is what’s important here.

Late last weekend, I had a keen craving for my mom’s pasta sauce. Saturdays of my youth, my mom would make this sauce for immediate and future use. She didn’t chop her garlic by hand, but instead used a press. That press, weatherbeaten, is still in my childhood kitchen.

For a Saturday dinner, we might have spaghetti with sauce, garlic toast (made with store-bought French bread spread with butter, sprinkled with garlic powder, and toasted at 350), and a green salad. One chore I hated was tearing the lettuce — I could never quite get it dry enough. The emergence of pre-bagged salads has all but extincted this task.

Here is my own cobbled recipe for pasta sauce. I used San Marzano tomatoes, 90/10 ground beef, yellow crookneck squash, and baby bella mushrooms, among other things. Not too spicy and not too sweet, the sauce is perfect with thick spaghetti.

Pasta Sauce with Mushrooms and Squash

Ingredients

  • One medium yellow onion, diced
  • Five cloves garlic, smashed and then minced
  • Approximately one pound lean ground beef (turkey, TVP, or Boca Crumbles may be used instead)
  • Two yellow squash, cut into like-sized pieces
  • 10 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • Two 28-ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes
  • One can tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper
  • White pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Herbes de Provence
  • White sugar — about 2/3 tablespoon (or to taste)

Method

  1. Start by browning your beef (or turkey, or alternate protein): heat a large skillet (lightly coated with olive oil), crumble the meat, and cook until browned. Drain meat, reserving in a dish, and discard excess fat.
  2. Using that same skillet (+ a dash of olive oil), cook your onions and garlic until onions are soft.
  3. Before proceeding, heat a large pot (soup pot, Dutch oven, or what have you) on a separate burner. Add a little splash of olive oil. Keep over low-medium heat until you’re ready to use it.
  4. To the onions/garlic, add your squash and mushrooms. Sautee the veggies for a few minutes until they’re starting to look soft. These veggies will be simmering in sauce for a bit, though, so don’t cook them fully.
  5. Transfer the veggies to your large pot. Add the meat. Add the two cans of tomatoes (and all accompanying juices) and the tomato paste. Also, add your spices: generous shakes of salt and pepper, a dash of white pepper, red pepper flakes, Herbes de Provence, and a little bit of sugar. The sugar is important — it cuts the acidity of the tomatoes. Also, it reminds me of my mom’s sauce. Maybe it reminds you of your mom’s sauce, too.
  6. Reduce the heat, allowing the sauce to simmer. Stir occasionally.
  7. Allow sauce to cool. Serve.
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