Friday, January 15, 2010

Cover to cover with Alton Brown: Good Eats and good reading

By Helen Klein

Visions of Emeril may dance in my head, but what’s a culinarily-minded Brooklynite to do now that -- as least for a vast swath of the borough – there’s no Food Network to turn to?

I, for one, am getting my Food Network fix by cracking the books – specifically, the new volume by FN sensation Alton Brown, Good Eats: The Early Years (Stewart Tabori & Chang, $37.50).

The book definitely brings Brown’s quirky show, Good Eats, to life, crammed full, as it is, with culinary trivia and information, in a format that is quintessentially Alton, logical, easy-to-follow recipes, offbeat humor and kooky charm included.

While there were many options I considered for a test – the finalists included Moo-Less Chocolate Pie, whose secret ingredient is one of my favorites, tofu, and Salsa, loaded with good South-of-the-Border stuff – I settled on All-Pantry Tomato Sauce.

Why, you might ask? Very simply, the recipe calls for cooking tomato sauce a way I had never tried before, broiling the tomatoes.

Now, this is a very sensible approach – the high heat caramelizes the sugars in the tomatoes and other vegetables in the sauce, and concentrates their flavor.

And, it’s something I have been itching to try for a while, ever since, in fact, I saw Domenico DeMarco of Di Fara Pizza broiling huge batches of tomatoes in his pizza oven. As a long time Di Fara fan – who waited for the master’s pies long before hip Manhattanites began making the trek to Midwood – I believe that if Dom does it, it’s going to make sense, when it comes to comestibles anyway.

The results were good, once I adjusted the recipe for my own palate, adding an additional four tablespoons of sugar, and cooking the sauce down a bit more while the sugar blended in. I don’t know if it was my sherry vinegar, or the tomatoes I used, but going exactly by the recipe, it was a bit too acetic for my taste, though the flavor was pleasantly layered, with a satisfying complexity, and the kitchen smelled great while the sauce was cooking.

All-Pantry Tomato Sauce

2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes
¼ cup sherry vinegar
½ cup white wine
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
4 tablespoons olive oil, not extra virgin
4 closes garlic smashed
3 ounces capers, rinsed and drained
To taste, salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Set a large strainer over a 4-quart saucepan and pour in the tomatoes, letting the juice run into the saucepan. Set the tomatoes aside.

2. Add the vinegar, wine, sugar, pepper flakes, oregano, and basil to the juice, put over high heat, and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally.

3. Reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half or until it has thickened to a loose syrup consistency, 14 to 20 minutes.

4. Heat the broiler to high and place an oven rack in the middle position. Toss the carrot, onion, and celery with the oil and garlic in a roasting pan. Place under the broiler for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the onions have begun to soften.

5. Carefully slide out the oven rack holding roasting pan and toss in the tomatoes and capers.

6. Return to the oven and broil for another 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until the tomatoes are browned around the edges. Carefully transfer the broiled tomato mixture to the saucepan. Remove from heat.

7. If you’d like, use a hand masher or a stick (immersion) blender to blend mixture to desired consistency.

8. Serve immediately or cool to room temperature, seal in an airtight container, and freeze for up to 1 year.


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