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March 2015

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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

Pasta sauce for 50 - Slow Cooking

The church is having a spaghetti dinner and family movie tonight and I volunteered to make pasta sauce. When we were in Italy this summer, we had a cooking lesson at our villa in Umbria and I've been applying what I learned there ever since. So just in case you have to make pasta for 50 or more people, the recipe and pictures are below. You can cut this back to a normal size, but I always end up making more than enough for our family of three and freeze containers of it for later use.

Umbrian Ragu for 50


Ingredients


1/4 cup Italian olive oil
1 bulb of garlic - minced
3 large yellow onions - chopped
3# white mushrooms - chopped
6 large bell peppers of various colors - chopped
4 large zucchini - chopped Umbrian style (see below)
2 28oz cans of diced tomatoes
2 28oz cans of tomato sauce
1 tbsp diced chili peppers
Italian herb mix (oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, basil)
For meat version: 6# hot Italian sausage - cooked separately and drained

Vegetarian version makes about 6 quarts or 48 half-cup servings.
Sausage version makes about 8 quarts or 64 half-cup servings. Today I'm doing both!

Here's a secret about slow cooking on the stovetop: If your heat is low enough, you should have time to do the chopping of each type of vegetable while the previous one cooks. If your burner is simply too hot, use a flame-tamer between it and your kettle. The temperature for this is just below boiling.


  1. In a 12-quart kettle heat olive oil over low heat and add onions and garlic. Sprinkle with about a teaspoon of dried Italian herbs and stir to coat all with the oil. Saute slowly over low heat until the onions soften and the house is filled with the inviting aroma.


  2. Add chopped mushrooms, sprinkle another teaspoon of Italian herbs on it and then stir into the onions. Continue to cook slowly. The mushrooms will release a phenomenal amount of liquid into your kettle and won't stick if you are cooking over low heat. Resist the temptation to turn up the flame.


  3. Add the chopped bell peppers and another teaspoon of Italian herbs, then stir them into the mix. Each added vegetable should cook for about five minutes before the next is added.


  4. When you chop the zucchini, first cut off the stem, then take a quarter-inch lengthwise slice of one side. Turn the zucchini sliced side down and remove a quarter-inch or so from each side. Roll the vegetable over and slice off the remaining green part. This will leave about a 3/4 inch square core. Discard it or keep it for adding to a soup stock at a later time. Slice the green parts into 1/4 inch thick Ds and add them to the cooking vegetables. Sprinkle with another teaspoon of Italian herbs and stir them in.


  5. Yes, if you were really committed to doing everything naturally, you'd be chopping up about two dozen roma tomatoes to add to the mix. But even in Umbria we bought jars of tomato sauce and chopped tomatoes to put in the sauce. So, just add the canned tomatoes,tomato sauce, and chilis to the mix and stir them in. Then start battling with anyone in the house to keep them away from tasting your kettle if you can! If you are vegetarian, you'll have about 6 quarts of sauce in the kettle. Let it cook over very low heat for a long time to get a great blending of the flavors.


  6. If you are a saugetarian, like me, in a separate pan cook the sausage over medium low heat until cooked thoroughly. You'll need to stir and break up the sausage as it cooks, and believe me, 6 pounds of sausage needs a big frying pan. You might need to cook it in smaller batches. Drain the sausage so your ragu doesn't get greasy, then add it to the mix. Cook over very low heat for a very long time.



Here's one more tip: There is no reason to throw away all that vegetable matter that you've trimmed from onions, peppers, zucchini, et.al. We collect all our vegetable trimmings (yes, even the onion skins and pepper seeds) and freeze them until we have two or three gallon freezer bags frozen. Then the DW puts them all in the slow cooker, covers them with water, and cooks them on high in the crock pot over night. Add your favorite herbs to the mix. In the morning, you can strain out all the vegetable matter and put it in your compost. What you will have left is the best vegetable broth in the world. Make soups or add to other dishes.

Hope you have a lot of friends to invite over for dinner!
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